Living 17 Kilometres from Gaza

di Bert Meltzer

On Saturday morning, October 7th, I awoke to the familiar sounds of rockets being launched from Gaza into Israel and the overhead explosions of the “Iron Dome” rockets.

I live in a farm about 17 kilometers from Gaza; it is here that I have my Sandplay therapy clinic. We have a strong shelter and are physically protected from the unlikely event that the Iron Dome misses the missile aimed at us. The problem is the emotional human one: the trauma of the violence and cruelty of it all, the tragedy of so many people killed, wounded, kidnapped.

My middle son, Bar, took his two sons to the beach early that Saturday morning to go fishing. At 6:15am rockets began flying over the beach; the younger son, Daniel, became terrified. My son called me to “talk him down”, while he was packing up the stuff, loading the car, and trying to get home ASAP. The 10-year-old child was crying and shaking from “fear of dying”.

My older son, Yahale, called me shortly after that. He lives in Ashkelon, about 5 minutes from me. The house next to his apartment building was hit by a rocket; people weren’t hurt as they were in the apartments required bomb shelter, but the rest of the apartment was damaged and the explosion involved cars in the parking lot, and that set off a chain reaction.

Events were touching me in very personal ways: first around the village called Nativ Ha-Asara, where Yahale’s wife’s sister lives. When the Hamas assault teams broke through the fence, and landed with para-gliders flying over the barrier fences, this was one of the 25 settlements that they occupied. They went from house to house killing as many they could find, and capturing some… most people were helpless and tried to hide. Yahale’s sister-in-law, and her daughter, hid in a dark corner of the house for 10 hours (without food, water, or toilet) fearful of moving or making any noise to remain undetected; fortunately, the corner they were hiding in was hidden by trees and not visible from the outside. They were rescued and escaped by car through the back roads and fields to a settlement further north. The girl described the terrifying experience of driving out of the community on this back road running a gauntlet of dead bodies. At first, I could not grasp the magnitude of the attack or of the massacre.

Only after they were safely rescued and evacuated to Ashkelon, did I fathom how miraculous was their survival. Twenty-one members of this community were found dead, and about half a dozen missing and presumed kidnapped to Gaza.

The third event involved my son Ravaye. He lives in a kibbutz in the North. His good friend from the same farm has a daughter who just recently started her service in the Israeli army. On that Saturday morning, his friend was in the Ivory Coast as an agricultural consultant, when he received a call from his daughter. She had been drafted less than two months prior. It was a holiday weekend and the experienced soldiers were given leave and the newest recruits were left to cover the base. When the rocket attack started, she was woken up and told to cover the entrance guard post. She was barefoot and in pajamas when she ran to the post. She called him because the alarms were on suggesting they were under attack, she thought she saw people trying to approach the base.

As a new recruit she is strictly forbidden to put the magazine of bullets in the gun without direct permission from her superior officer. But she could not reach him. And anyway, she was not sure how to activate it. My son’s friend had been in a combat unit in his time in the army, and so he tried to guide her to be able to do her duty and in the same time protect herself, doing his best from long distance: they succeeded to do both – seven soldier-friends died this morning.

One of my stepsons for years has been involved in the business of doing lighting and sound systems for music events. This weekend there was a “nature-music” Peace festival in kibbutz Beeri fields. He was not involved, but several of his friends were there. Thousands of teenagers and young men and woman gathered and camped out for the weekend here to dance and listen to the bands coming through the “Peace Festival”. When the rockets started flying out of Gaza, they stopped the concert and urged people to go home. Most started packing up and organizing to leave, but before could leave, they were attacked by pickup trucks and motorcycle riding terrorists shooting at them… many were killed; more were wounded (about 3.000); others ran and tried to find somewhere to hide… many were captured and brought back to Gaza to be tortured.

The day after, my wife, who is a physical therapist received a call from one of her clients. Over the years my wife had treated most of this woman’s family who was calling now to share the devastation that occurred to her family. With broken heart, she described that her grandfather was in the hospital with bullets in his legs and back, his partner of many years, her uncle, and her mother have all been murdered, while her sister-in-law was undergoing three surgeries to remove shrapnel from three parts of her body.

Even during the tragic morning, people were calling from hiding to the TV station live, begging for help as the police and army haven’t responded to them and they hear Palestinians banging at their door crying and begging for help… no end in sight and even the promise of further escalation. Crazy situation where citizens in the towns of Sderot, Ofikim, Nativ Esara, and Yad Mordecai are calling the TV stations saying that they are trapped in the house and their buildings are being shot on.

Over 5000 rockets have been fired into Israel: children are regressing to bed wetting in mass, afraid to leave the “safe room” (the bomb shelter); teenagers and young adults jumping with every sound, unable to sleep, returning back to their parents’ nest searching for a vanished sense of safety. The kids from all over the country have been traumatized. Children unable to sleep because new fears that “a terrorist can break into their house and kill them all”. The Hamas published on social media a lot of gruesome videos of their success in killing torturing and abusing Israeli bodies: this is effective in elevating the level of fear and shock.

Throughout that first day, the human stories are horrific… so many crying parents: where are my children? And children crying where is my mother? Father? Brother? 25 settlements devastated of both human life, and physical facilities. So many families are looking for their missing relatives!

I argued before this horrendous day, as a psychologist, that everyone here in the Middle East was collectively traumatized first from the cultural origins (Jews and Arabs: the holocaust, the mass exodus from North Africa and the ‘marbarot’ existence that followed in the 1950’s; the loss of their homes of Arab communities in 1948, the poverty and hunger of those that were rescued from Ethiopia and Eritrea to the ‘promised land’, the deprivation of refugee camps, etc.); along with all the continuous ongoing threats and events of previous wars and continuous intermittent terror attacks over the years… but if this is the basis of cultural and collective trauma, these last few days are totally devastating.

All illusions of strength, safety, being protected by a strong military, and the “most sophisticated high tech army in the world”. All these illusions to make possible the belief and confidence that ‘never again’ are lost… It was “never again” until yesterday, when it happened again.

In the midst of all the horror, there were two positive events. The first is the effectiveness of the Iron Dome rocket systems. Without it, the list of casualties and wounded could be more huge.

The second: since the first days of the attack, 1000’s of survivors of the communities around Gaza who were not killed or kidnapped were evacuated to relative safer areas of Israel (Eilat, Dead Sea area, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas). Thousands of volunteers throughout Israel brought food, clothing, personal hygiene supplies, to the survivors and the soldiers. Volunteer organizations tried to provide personal assistance including social services and therapeutic services.

The Israeli Sandplay Association is one of them which mobilized and tried our best to organize some volunteer assistance. What follows is some of their (our) work.

Sandplay therapists are setting up and operating some modified forms of Sandplay therapy in the hotels and shelters in which evacuees have been located. Members of the Sandplay community have gone to Eilat, the Dead Sea, and the Jerusalem area (the same hotel where we held the last ISST Congress!) offering some modified versions of Sandplay therapy, as can be adapted to the chaotic conditions and physical situations of this moment.

Setting up and operating a Sandplay therapy program in these circumstances required great flexibility and adaptability to the urgency of the moment, using space available less than “classical” therapy conditions, and being highly adaptive to the needs and sensitivities of the traumatized clients.

Parents and children came to build side by side, cousins wanted to build together, and some traumatized but reluctant participant arrived, first watching others, then joining some buildings, and only after this building on her/his own.

Two therapists tried to be the container for 10-12 Sandplay creators at a time. Some creators were unable to say anything, while others needed to find a willing ear and could hardly stop pouring out volumes of experiences of fear and sorrow.

I can share the layout of the spontaneous Sandplay therapy room above; three anonymous drawings/paintings of some teenage survivors which were left in public places, and two sand trays of two survivors from one of the massacred communities, who did give their consent. The drawing/painting is a good representation of the mood and attitude of the survivors. The first painting (to the right) of the ‘world on fire’ speaks for itself. Above the drawing to the left, was written in Hebrew: “the moon no longer gives light to the night sky”.

A mother and daughter were hiding for ten hours in a shelter while Hamas terrorists moved around their village shooting those they found; they hid for ten hours and when rescued fled to family in Ashkelon.

Several days after, they did these sand trays:


In the daughter’s sandtray she created a ‘safari park’. She says the blue are the roads that travel through the park, but they also serve to separate the animals… especially the predators from the prey. See the lion and the cheetah in the upper right and the wolf in the top middle. While the vegetarians, the gazelle and the giraffe, are behind the road and behind some trees and bushes at the upper left. Note while she emphasizes the intention that each has its own separate, and protected space the visual reality is that the road has gaps, and the separations seem to have wide gaps in places (a hint of vulnerability even while trying to create ‘safe’ spaces).


The Mother’s tray tells a different story. There is a small humble farm woman fetching a pail of water next to a small house partially protected by a large sand dune. Opposite this woman is a large ornamental ‘castle’, with a princess in front. At the upper left are two warrior figures and two black panthers. Another warrior and black panther are at the lower end of the tray. She identifies the black figures as Vikings coming from another land with their hunting killer dogs to conquer the lands in front of them. The blue sticks in the upper left represent the Red Sea that acts as a barrier to prevent them from being able to enter their land and from attacking the farm woman. But the warrior below is already on the other side. The sea that can’t be crossed has been crossed. She said… “the Castle, the home of the Queen and the princess… We thought it was real, but it turns out to be just an illusion and the reality is the little vulnerable farm woman helplessly being attacked by the Vikings with no means to protect herself and her child.”


A seventeen-year-old boy made a set of illustrations that he brought to me conveying aggression, rage, destruction and cynicism. In this drawing there are elements of violence, attack, graves, explosions, an Israeli soldier exploding above, and below it, and another gunman killing a figure. (Gaza and Israel.) He is a reflective youth, and he insightfully calls his drawing “just a casualty of the Self”.


He calls this drawing “The Course of History”. Above is the label “optimism” and below: “pessimism”. From left to right he creates a condensed map of time identifying some dates critical: 1914 (WW1), 1945 (Atomic Bomb); 1948 (the creation of Israel); 1945-50(“the cold war”). On the right is a map of the middle East with Israel exploding. In the middle is a man in intensive care hospital bed which he labels “mankind”. The bed sits on a floor which says “NEVER FORGET” with the NEVER crossed out. And finally to the right is a map of the Middle East with Israel exploding on fire.

I think this image can stand quite well for where we are now. The country, the area is in crisis. All Israeli’s have been traumatized by the events of October 7th. The citizens of Gaza are no less traumatized by the response of Israel to the barbaric attack and kidnappings.

But all over Israel people have mobilized to help survivors find shelter, to provide them with clothing, food, and shelter. Therapists of all kinds have rushed to the many centers around the country that have taken in refugees. Israeli Sandplay therapists have been very proactive to run to Eilat, the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other sites where refugees have been given sanctuary to offer therapeutic services for surviving children and their parents. The examples above are a taste of how expressive art therapies and Sandplay therapy can help to find a way to express and integrate the unimaginable trauma still unfolding around us.




Dr. Bert Meltzer

  • M.A. and Ph.D. Clark University, Worcester, Mass. USA
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Israel and California, USA
  • Co-founder of the Israeli Sandplay Therapy Association (ISTA)
  • Past President of ISTA
  • Teaching Member of ISST 
  • Currently he is the ISST Board Representative of ISTA

I received my Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from Clark University, Worcester, 1969. My doctorate was about the impact of interracial education on the psyche of the participating students. I then worked for four years in community mental health services in Northern California before moving to Israel and, subsequently, to co-found the Israeli Sandplay Therapy Association and to work with trauma (with Rina Porat, and under the guidance of Joel Ryce-Menuhin). During the last 40 years, I have worked several years at Hebrew University and Psychological Services of Ministry of Education, and then in private practice.

Unisciti alla nostra Community

Iscriviti gratuitamente al forum AISPT

via Antonio Bertoloni 27, 00197 - Roma
via Vincenzo Monti 12, 00152 - Roma
P.IVA 96135700589


L’AISPT, espressione italiana della International Society for Sandplay Therapy ISST, si occupa di formazione, ricerca, condivisione di esperienze e conoscenze sulla psicologia con il metodo del Gioco della Sabbia, all’interno di una rete internazionale che facilita lo studio, la discussione specialistica e lo scambio tra i terapeuti. La Sandplay Therapy fornisce un linguaggio simbolico anche a chi non ha parole per esprimere il proprio malessere, consentendo di rappresentare il mondo interno così come si è costellato.

Registrati su AISPT

Scambia pareri con colleghi e professionisti all'interno dei nostri forum di discussione. Partecipare è semplice e gratuito, basta iscriversi.

Registrati gratuitamente