Mark Silvert

Mark Silvert

By Mark Silvert, Consultant Psychiatrist, The Blue Tree Clinic, Harley Street

“Are you still going to Israel next week?” I asked my friend who is not Jewish but is dating a Jew.

“No Israel is disgusting, I wont go and my boyfriend agrees with me! Are you still going?”

Rather stunned to hear this from my once good friend I took time to compose myself.

“Israel is disgusting? What do you know about it? You watch the BBC and you are now an expert?”

“I know what I see.” She says.  Our friendship hangs on a thread.

I decide I don’t want to begin what would be a ten round verbal boxing match with someone that has not the faintest clue of the politics or history of the Middle East – without trying to patronise her, I just tell her that yes, I am still going to Israel and it’s better we don’t continue this conversation.

After a reprieve in the rocketing from Gaza, a ceasefire held in the balance until more rockets were fired on Tuesday the 19th August.

A few days before this I landed in Eretz Israel with two of my best friends with what is an unusually quick process at the passport control, a bored girl asks me one question and I am through Ben Gurion and into the punishing humidity of an August night in Tel-Aviv.

Part of my reason for being here is to support Israel in this time of war with Hamas. We have plans to visit soldiers in hospital and make care packages for children living in the South. But there would be time to see the country I hoped.

I call Moise, who works for one of the largest tour companies in Israel.

“I would like to go to Tiberias and the Jordan River on Thursday, how much would that be for 3 of us?” I ask.

“Mark, there are no tours at the moment.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are no tourists booking, we are closed for now.”

This does not entirely surprise me, as I have been receiving daily texts from friends and family at home asking if I am safe and why would I choose to go to Israel right now?  The rockets and sirens don’t make for enticing holiday planning.

This will be the topic of conversation later that day as my iPhone app, “Red alert” (yes there’s an app for that) goes off continually warning of incoming rockets, mainly to the South, but occasionally some snake their way to Tel Aviv.

Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel.

Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel.

After the sirens stop we return to our conversations about how many English and American tourists have cancelled their trips to Israel, how sad that is considering the Iron Dome and how good it is at protecting people, and the real need for Israel to have people’s support right now.

It was with great privilege that the next day, I got to meet Brigadier General Daniel Gold, the inventor of the Iron Dome itself.

He refuses to comment on whether he uses a bomb shelter himself but what is for certain is years of pain staking work by him and his team has made one of the most sophisticated defence shields in the world.

If you are worried to come to Tel Aviv – don’t be. “Iron Dome is operating 24/7 in all weather conditions,” he tells us to protect us and so far has intercepted every rocket sent from Gaza to Tel Aviv.

As a psychiatrist I am fascinated when we meet Professor Mooli Lahad at Tel Hai college and hear about the post traumatic stress that people are living with and the resilience of Israeli’s in the light of constant rocket attacks, mortars and the possibility that someone will appear out of a tunnel. How do they cope living in constant fear?

He speaks of their resilience and the treatments of CBT and EMDR that will be used to calm their minds as they try to let go of anxiety and fear. Reoccurring nightmares, flashbacks and sensitivity to sudden noises are all cardinal signs of PTSD. And Israeli communities may have these symptoms of PTSD possibly for years to come.

Summer camps have moved to the North but now rockets came from Lebanon. No-one feels safe anywhere.

I think back to my friend who calls Israel disgusting as I sit on the beach as above me 2 Iron Dome rockets intercept another Iranian Fajer rocket and with a loud explosion another Hamas rocket has been destroyed.

The people of Tel Aviv continue with their lives under constant attack and I am reminded that the Professor who is a world authority on PTSD speaks of treating both Jews and Palestinians for their mental health needs, when there is an opportunity to do so.

Israel is not disgusting but it is worth remembering that even moderates in England are spewing such misinformation and bile – it is hard not to worry about the rise in anti-Semitism.

I am proud that I am here to support Israel whilst the IDF do what their name reminds us they are here to do, defend us so we can continue to live and continue to come to Israel and support the country.

Not coming to Israel is allowing terrorists to win.

Send them a message that they never will…