update deskIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Study shows mental, physical toll on Israelis closest to Gaza rockets

Women and young people suffered more than men and adults.

Israeli police and emergency responders take cover as a siren warns of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, May 11, 2023. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90.
Israeli police and emergency responders take cover as a siren warns of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, May 11, 2023. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90.

The nearer Israelis lived to the Gaza Strip during “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” the more they suffered psychologically and physically from the rocket fire, a Tel Aviv University study confirms.

Researchers equipped nearly 5,000 Israelis with smartwatches and a dedicated mobile application to monitor their mental and physiological indicators during the 11-day war with Hamas in May 2021.

The findings show that “Gaza envelope” residents experienced the greatest mental and physiological toll from the daily rocket barrages when compared to those living in the Center and the North of the county. Those living in the Center in turn suffered more than people living in the North as rockets reached Tel Aviv and other areas of central Israel. 

“For the past two years, we have been running a huge clinical study in which we equipped nearly 5,000 Israelis from all groups in the population with smartwatches and a dedicated application that we developed, through which we monitored their health on a daily basis. The study is called PerMed, short for Personalized Medicine, and its purpose was to diagnose infectious diseases like COVID-19 better and earlier,” said Professor Erez Shmueli, one of the Tel Aviv University researchers involved in the study.

“But in Israel, there is never a dull moment, and it provided us with the first opportunity in history to test the changes in the physiological and mental indicators of civilians during wartime, because shortly after we started the experiment, Israel embarked on ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls,’” Shmueli continued.

The research team also included Professor Dan Yamin and doctoral students Merav Mofaz and Matan Yechezkel of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering; Professor Noga Kronfeld-Schor of the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences; and Professor Haim Einat of the School of Behavioral Sciences at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Communication Medicine from the Nature group.

Residents of southern Israel spent more time on their screens compared to residents of the Center and the North—6.2 hours per day versus 5.3 in the Center and 5 in the North. Greater changes in mood and stress were also observed in the South, as were less physical activity and sleep.

Women and young people deviated more from the normal compared to men and adults.

Immediately after the war ended, all of the indicators returned on average to previous levels. The researchers said this “demonstrates the mental resilience of Israelis.”

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