Gaza Strip: "In Gaza Strip under siege, a Conference to not go insane!"

Il Manifesto
Article by Luisa Morgantini, originally published in the "Il Manifesto" Newspaper.
"Hani Al-Hasayneh was three years old when she died on October 14th after the Israeli Authorities denied her permission to exit the Strip to receive medical care: her organism was unable to produce a protein needed for her brain’s metabolism, and the drug that would cure this condition is not available in Gaza.
Just like little Hani, another 252 Palestinians died since June 2007, unable to leave the Strip due to the closure imposed by Israel. Ahmad Al-Lahham is the most recent victim, a cancer patient who needed urgent care from abroad and whose permit to leave was denied. He died on 21st October. Amongst these deaths, 35% are children.

But the devastation is not only physical; it also affects minds. In Gaza psychological disorders, trauma, anxiety and depression are very common, especially in children: 92.23% of Palestinians feel as if they live in a prison, with growing anxiety, despair and frustration for the fear of not receiving proper medical care, finding treatments for their children or obtaining the permits needed to leave the Strip and look for treatments abroad.

Women are most often affected by somatization disorders, showing obsessive and compulsive behavior and phobic anxiousness. Since the year 2000, the number of patients who seek treatment in Mental Health Centers grew by 38%, and many of them are children.

For these reasons, an International Conference on the “impact of the siege on mental health” is to be held in Gaza on October 27th and 28th, organized by the NGO “Gaza Community Mental Health Program” (GCMHP) in collaboration with the World Health Organization. Yet, 120 foreign academics, doctors, and researchers who wanted to attend the conference were denied permits to enter Gaza by the Israeli Authorities. As the GCMHP writes: "the Conference on the effects of the siege was besieged."

However the Conference will not be cancelled: today, following a press conference in Jerusalem, many US academics and "Jewish for peace" will come together to condemn this Israeli policy in a demonstration in front of the Erez crossing. The Conference will still take place in Gaza on the 27th, while all those Internationals who were prevented from entering Gaza will participate in Ramallah via a video conference. At the same time, many initiatives will take place in cities around the world, including in Italy, demanding an end to the siege on Gaza.

During the last 7 years, and especially since June 2007, when Hamas gained control of the strip, Palestinians in Gaza experienced dramatic traumas due to the Israeli blockade, the violent incursions, bombings and raids which have driven the civilian population to a humanitarian crisis in conditions of unprecedented poverty. According to John Ging, the Unrwa Director in Gaza (where the unemployment rate in the Strip is at 45% and 55% of families live below the poverty line), this is not only a matter of "political collapse" but also of "lack of humanity" which has been created by human beings and must be urgently stopped by ending the siege. Ging concludes, and I couldn’t agree more, that "it is time for a radical change in the policies of all those who took part in creating such poverty and such a shameful situation". Yet, the responsibility lies not only with the Israeli military occupation and with the International Community, even if they are primarily responsible. The divisions within the territory and within the Palestinian leadership, the growing intolerance and killings amongst Palestinians can and must end if the Palestinian leadership adopts a different approach and policies. Occupation, violence, suffering, injustice and the lack of freedom lead to indelible and disastrous consequences on the population: the siege on the Gaza Strip must end, the military occupation of the 67 territories must end.

By: Luisa Morgantini, Vice President of the European Parliament

Translated by Corinna Giorgi, Barabara Antonelli and Francesca Cutarelli