Photo: Michael Kramer
Line outside US Embassy in TA
Photo: Michael Kramer

Dealing with Iran anxiety

Special: Silent terror of prospective war permeates Israel's seemingly normal daily life

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech last month and Iran's counter threats placed the Iranian threat and a prospective war at the front and center of Israel's daily life.


Rather than inquiring where our friends plan to spend Passover, we asked where they plan to spend the Iranian threat. Israeli satire shows jumped on the bandwagon and broadcasted skits on Iran's threat and hundreds of Facebook users joined the "I Love Iran" initiative on the social network.


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Some choose to panic, others – to repress, but one thing is certain: It's hard to deny the constant pervasion of the Iranian threat into our minds.


During Friday night dinner, one friend who owns a demanding business and employs dozens of workers shared his deliberations regarding a planned trip to the US. "I ask myself what if the Iranian deal hits my wife and daughters in my absence," he uttered somberly.


During a recent get-together with girlfriends at a local café, one self employed, childless friend vowed to skip the country once the sirens sound. "I don't have the strength to deal with another war," she said.


None of the Israelis queuing for long hours outside the US embassy last week would admit that they were seeking a visa because of the situation with Iran, but one woman confessed that rather than waiting for the summer to apply for her visa, she decided to be prepared in advance lest "Iran beats me to it," eliciting nods of approval from fellow applicants. "You're skipping the country as well?" they asked each other bitterly.


It takes a moment to comprehend the surreal scene at the home improvement store in south Tel Aviv that is also a provisional distribution point for gas masks. Some come to shop for the Passover holiday, some to pick up their gas masks; others get both things done at the same time and exit the store clutching shopping bags in one hand and a gas-mask kit in the other.


'Government talking too much'

Genia Michlin, who immigrated to Israel from Russia after the Chernobyl disaster, says that leaving the country is not an option. "I live in a settlement among Arab villages so I feel quite safe. At any rate, if there is a nuclear attack, nothing will help us."


Jasmine, an Arab woman who resides in Jaffa, clutches several gas-mask kits in her hand and says that "we're taking them for the children, but whatever happens in the end is God's will."


Victoria, who emigrated from the Philippines and converted to Judaism, has two sons who are soon to join the army. "God willing, we'll be in this together. Not being by your children in such a situation is the hardest thing for a mother."


For Shlomi, a lifesaver at a hotel swimming pool, this is the third attempt to collect his gas mask. "I have a Canadian passport but I won't necessarily use it. I have a paranoid friend who says that the minute the first rocket hits the ground, he's getting on a plane out of here."


"The open publicity regarding the danger and a possible strike in Iran feeds the people's fears," says Professor Dan Zakai, a psychologist and expert on decision-making processes. "Reasons for anxiety are real and the prime minister makes sure we believe that there is good reason to be afraid, which is a complete reversal of past government policies that advocated secrecy on such matters."


"The government is constantly discussing the matter openly, and it's taking its toll on people. It's becoming more and more disturbing," he says.


'Repression not a bad thing'

Professor Yair Bar-Haim, a clinical psychologist from Tel Aviv University, explains how people choose to deal with the situation: "Most people feel there's nothing they can do against the Iranian threat aside from minor preparations. The decision to leave the country once the war begins is not an option for most Israelis, so most choose to deny the threat and not deal with it, reassuring themselves that Netanyahu or Obama know best and will take care of things."


Professor Mario Mikulincer, Professor of Psychology and Dean of the New School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzlyia, says that the Iranian threat can affect mass denial: "This is called the terror management theory, according to which the development of society is motivated by fear of mortality…The Iranian threat touches on our fear of mortality and our concerns for our offspring. Denial allows us to go on with our lives."


According to a study from 1991 conducted by Dean of the School of Psychology in The Center for Academic Studies, Professor Amiram Raviv, in the wake of the first Gulf War, during the war, parents showed higher levels of fear than non-parents and adults exhibited lower levels of fear than youngsters.


"One explanation is that adults have less to lose," says Raviv. "Repression is not a bad thing as a way of dealing with insoluble situations…A normal individual is defined by the ability to repress the knowledge of his own mortality. The same is true for the Iranian threat: if I can't defend myself against it, it behooves me to refrain from dealing with it. What's the better alternative – to attack Iran and suffer a barrage of 200 missiles or to let them hold on to a nuclear weapon that they might or might not use against us?"


"Every human organism has a fight or flight instinct. The question of where to seek refuge is in the divide between caution and anxiety. The human organism is designed to identify and evade danger," he says. "What compelled certain Jews to leave Europe on the eve of World War II? The question is – at what point does one jump ship? The potential for threat is a constant, no one makes it out of life alive anyhow and most of us sit back and hope for the best. That's what makes us normal and that's why most of us will stay put and wait."


Original story published by Calcalist




פרסום ראשון: 04.13.12, 15:52
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