Border Control / Nervous in the Negev

A study found children in the south worried more than their friends in the north during conflicts. Gaps in resources are to blame.

For many of the children in communities bordering Gaza, the excitement of the first day of school is accompanied by fear of Qassams, which have begun to trickle back.

A new study found that situational anxiety (as opposed to general anxiety) among Jewish and Arab adolescents in the south during Operation Cast Lead was significantly higher than among their peers in the north during the Second Lebanon War.

The gap was particularly evident in terms of psycho-physiological phenomena such as abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The study found that the higher the parents' socio-economic level, the less anxiety the children suffer.

The gap between the north and the south is explained by the difficult living conditions of the weak Jewish and Arab populations in many Negev communities. This prevents them from developing ways to handle stress.

The researchers, Professor Shifra Sagy and Dr. Orna Levinson of the Conflict Management and Resolution Program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, examined three responses: situational stress, situational anger and psychosomatic syndromes. They also examined individual, family and community coping resources during missile attacks in the north of the country and in the south.

Questionnaires were distributed to 138 Jewish adolescents (aged 12 to 18) in Be'er Sheva, Ashkelon, Ofakim and Lahavim, and 84 Bedouin adolescents in Rahat. In the north, about 400 adolescents also filled out the questionnaires.

There were no significant differences in situational anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms between Jewish and Bedouin adolescents in the south. However, more anger was found among the Bedouin respondents.

Jewish respondents expressed more confidence in the government and the authorities, and were more satisfied with how the institutions handled the situation.

The Arabs' response stemmed from frustration, confusion and consternation, the researchers said: Their fellow Arabs were showering them with missiles, while their state was bombarding their relatives.

The research also examined adolescents' coherence - the tendency to see the world as a rational place and recognition of the individual's ability to influence his own life.

Sagy and others found these are positive factors in coping with chronic stress.

Without them, children perceive the world as chaotic, meaningless and lacking in resources, and have difficulty coping with stress.

This results in manifestations of anger, anxiety and societal alienation.

The study found that place of residence, and parents' education level and socio-economic status also have a decisive influence on their children's sense of coherence; Arab-Bedouin youth feel less coherence than their Jewish neighbors; and adolescents in Lahavim feel more coherence than their peers in Ofakim.

Professor Sagy says the study shows the importance of strengthening coherence among children and youth, especially in poorer communities.

She says that community-level intervention has worked in Israel and abroad.

The study shows that youth living in Ashkelon neighborhoods that received considerable resources evinced more strength than their peers in neighborhoods with fewer resources.

This kind of intervention, along with advance preparation in northern communities that suffered past Katyusha attacks, explain the lower levels of anxiety there, says Sagy.

Operation Cast Lead increased awareness of the need to help weaker populations cope with stress.

However, this awareness is not yet accompanied by sufficient resources.

Backing out of the Swedish corner

Now that Jerusalem has calmed down from the hysteria surrounding the organ theft article that appeared in the newspaper Aftonbladet, the Swedes have shifted from attacking Israel to self-criticism.

Swedish Chancellor of Justice Goran Lambertz published an article stating that that while criticizing the article's publication does contravene the law, the government may still criticize its contents.

The government can go further in criticizing the article without violating the Constitution, said Lambertz.

For example, one of the ministers could have said: "We have no reason to believe these allegations."

Lambertz said the decision not to react to the report stemmed from political considerations, not legal constraints.

Thorbjorn Larsson, editor in chief of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's most respected newspaper, has said the crisis may have been inevitable, but that Foreign Minister Carl Bildt should have expressed a clearer position from its offset.

Larsson also believes ministers may react to articles clearly, without infringing on the right to free speech.

The editor also noted that Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, who was assassinated in 1968, did not hesitate to express his opinion about a controversial report accusing his justice minister of tax violations.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a ministry delegation permission to visit Sweden.