The mass deployment of gas masks to an entire population, which occurred in Israel prior to the Persian Gulf crisis and their use in early 1991, were phenomena without precedent. In addition to the historical significance, there were considerable health and psychological ramifications. This research examines the experiences of the Israeli public during the Gulf war using a qualitative methodological approach, narrative analysis. Interviews of a convenience sample of 60 patients attending primary care clinics were audio-recorded by three family physicians using an open-ended interview guide. Encounters took place at sites located in the north, south and centre of the country during the period of Iraqi missile attacks. Patients' stories were analysed using a multistep narrative analysis protocol. Seventy per cent of subjects reported deleterious health effects related to the missile attacks or civil defence measures, mainly psychological and neurological complaints, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms. Recurrent themes and metaphors in the narratives most often focused on the difference of this war to others, the central involvement of the family, concern for children and identification and connection to the nation. The Scud missile attacks combined with the civil defence measures had significant impact on the population, as manifested in subjects' stories, symptoms, symbols and behaviour. Narrative analysis provided an efficient method to capture the rich texture of patients' experiences.