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You Could See It Coming: Chronic War Stress, Chronic Disease

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: unending violence leads to devastating disease

“Who started it,” Israelis or Palestinians, is a long-ago-forgotten concern. The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict reach back centuries, and the cycle of violence between these historic peoples is relentless.

You could see it coming…a group of Palestinians kills three Israeli boys. And you could see it coming…a group of Israeli settlers kills a Palestinian boy. And you could see it coming…Palestinian fighters shoot rockets into Israel. And you could see it coming...the Israeli military launches airstrikes against the Palestinian fighters. And you could see it coming…Palestinian fighters launch more rockets into Israel. And you could see it coming…the Israeli military launches a ground assault into Palestinian territory. And you can see it coming…


The Israelis and Palestinians occupy an area (Israel and the territories of Gaza and the West Bank) of about 8,000 square miles, slightly smaller than the US state of New Jersey, which is about 8,700 square miles. Gaza is about 140 square miles, while the West Bank, with a total land boundary of 251 miles, is about 2,200 square miles. Israel stretches 260 miles from north to south and between about 10 and 70 miles from east to west.

Palestinian rockets have reportedly landed as far as 72 miles into Israel, and Israeli attack jets can, of course, reach any Palestinian target in mere moments. In other words, the Israelis and Palestinians live cheek by jowl, and the threat of immediate violence brutally lingers for both.


It’s well known that exposure to violence can cause psychological distress (e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD), but a recent study by Daphna Canetti, Eric Russ, Judith Luborsky, James Gerhart, and Stevan Hobfoll in the Journal of Traumatic Stress shows the effect of prolonged exposure to conflict violence can have important physiological effects as well.

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Related posts:

Voting and Stress: Do Hormones Make You a Better Citizen?

Sex (Hormones) and the Elections

“PTSD and Coronary Heart Disease” (by PT blogger Shaili Jain, MD)

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In their study “Inflamed by the Flames? The Impact of Terrorism and War on Immunity,” they found that individuals around the Gaza border in Southern Israel who reported greater levels of distress resulting from recent “rocket attacks (missiles and mortars) and terror attacks” (i.e., PTSD) were more likely to have higher blood levels of C-reactive protein, a biomarker for chronic inflammation.

Inflammation, which is part of the human immune system, occurs in response to bodily harm. It begins the healing process by ridding the body of damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens. Acute inflammation, which usually lasts a few days and results from an injury like a cut or body blow, is noticeable due to pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function around the injured area.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, usually lasts from months to years and is the result of prolonged infection or stress on the body. It is often “hidden” without any outward symptoms, but it is thought to increase the risk of cell and tissue destruction, damage to connective tissues, and life-threatening diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, while acute inflammation typically improves health, chronic inflammation typically harms health, sometimes with devastating consequences.


The toll of war is great, particularly when, like the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it enters an unremitting vicious cycle. Advances in medicine have made it easier to see what’s coming, such as the effect of chronic conflict stress on chronic inflammation, and the costs may be greater than ever imagined.

This just shows, once again, that biology can affect our politics, and politics can affect our biology.

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For more information:

Canetti, Daphna, Eric Russ, Judith Luborsky, and E. Stevan Hobfoll. 2014. “Inflamed by the Flames? The Impact of Terrorism and War on Immunity.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 27(3): 345-352.

In addition to writing the "Caveman Politics" blog for Psychology Today, Gregg is the Executive Director of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas Tech University. You can find more information on Gregg at

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