A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

mass hysteria & Israeli balloons … ?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 5, 2007

Last January, an unusually strong wind sent dozens of green balloons advertising a local Israeli paper across the border into southern Lebanon. Village residents there feared biological warfare, and the Lebanese press and government responded immediately, if somewhat brainlessly, as this January 27 Naharnet article indicates:

8 Hospitalized after Inhaling Toxic Gases from Israeli Balloons
Eight people were hospitalized Saturday after inhaling toxic gases from poisonous balloons dropped by Israeli warplanes over Upper Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon, the National News Agency reported. NNA said among those who were rushed to hospital suffering from nausea and fatigue were a Lebanese staff sergeant, a recruit and An Nahar reporter Rana Jouni.

The agency said Israeli warplanes dropped at least 10 poisonous balloons with Hebrew markings over Upper Nabatiyeh at about 9 am Saturday.

NNA said contacts have been made between the Lebanese army command and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, which has instructed an Italian peacekeeping unit to take samples from the balloons for examination. The agency said the results are likely to come out on Sunday.

NNA had earlier said that the Lebanese army’s engineering unit headed to the area and destroyed the balloons by explosives.

The army, in a communiqué issued Friday, warned civilians against messing with the balloons and urged them to report finding them to the closest army unit.

Its a bit silly to think that Israel would resort to poisoned balloons (and why only 10?) when it has fighter jets and bombs at its disposal, and my friend C was right to point out the absurdity of the whole thing. On the other hand, Israeli jets frequently “buzz” Nabatiyeh, reminding citizens there that they do indeed live under threat of airborne attacks.

This morning I saw an abstract of a Lebanese medical journal article on a mass hysteria case from a village in south Lebanon and wondered whether the case under study was related to the balloon scare. Here’s the information I found on the article:


Mass psychogenic illness (epidemic sociogenic attacks) in a village in Lebanon, published in the April-June 2007 issue of the Journal medical libanais.

Authors: E. G. Karam and L. H. Khattar of the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology, St George University Hospital Medical Center & Faculty of Medicine and Medical Sciences, University of Balamand, Lebanon


Mass psychogenic illness (epidemic sociogenic attacks/mass hysteria) refers to a rapid spread of well-described signs and symptoms affecting members of a group. It might be difficult to differentiate at first from illnesses due to infections, intoxications or “bio-terrorism.” We investigated such an occurrence in a small village in Lebanon chronically under threat of war [i.e., a village in south Lebanon]. A 16-year-old single female, school student, was referred to Saint George Hospital University Medical Center, Beirut, for attacks of shortness of breath, muscle cramps, tremors and dizziness, for several days. She was referred because she was the first of eight cases from the same village to have similar symptoms. In parallel to an inpatient multidisciplinary evaluation and treatment, meetings were held with the crisis group comprising members of the hospital Psychiatry and Psychology Department, a public health representative of the Ministry of Health of Lebanon, physicians who were taking care of the other cases and a psychologist working in the area where these cases were declared. The diagnosis of mass psychogenic illness (epidemic sociogenic attacks) was reached. A common strategy was adopted in an effort to control the epidemic. Several explanations had been put forward initially by the community : bioterrorism, noxious fumes and “bad spirits.” At the time of writing this report–nine months later–, the epidemic, which had abated within six weeks, was still inactive.

I’m hysterically eager to read it … 🙂

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