‘We need to restore hope’: A Gaza doctor addresses British MPs

Yesterday, MPs, peers and charities joined together at an event in the Palace of Westminster to mark the second anniversary of the 2014 attacks on Gaza. Among those speaking at the event were MAP CEO Tony Laurance and former MAP volunteer surgeon and current Member of Parliament for Central Ayrshire Dr Philippa Whitford MP. Both spoke about the current crisis in Palestinian health and wellbeing posed by the slow pace of reconstruction following the conflict, and the blockade and closure of Gaza now in its tenth year.

Those attending were supposed to also be addressed by Dr Yasser Abu Jamei, Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. Dr Abu Jamei was due to travel to the UK this week to receive an award from his alma mater, Birmingham University, and to speak about the mental health challenges face by Gaza’s 1.8 million population. As is the case for many Palestinians from Gaza, he was unable to obtain the necessary permits to travel abroad, and was therefore unable to address Parliamentarians at the event.

Dr Abu Jamei instead sent a powerful statement describing how the 2014 conflict impacted him, his family, and all of Gaza’s population. You can read his statement in full below, and support his call for action for the people of Gaza by signing our petition here.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you very much for making the time for the meeting and hearing this statement.

Today I was supposed to meet you in one of the most democratic places on the planet. In the UK parliament where people learn how to be free and how to build and develop their societies. Tomorrow I was supposed to receive an award from the University of Birmingham but none of that is happening. I will be setting in my office in Gaza and hoping that you will read or hear this statement. I was not able of receiving the necessary permits to leave Gaza and be there. This is the only place on earth that you need permits from three authorities to leave in addition to the visa of the place you are traveling to. Gaza is an open air prison to almost 2 million people, something that never happened in history of mankind, but is happening in the twenty first century and in front of the eyes of the international community.

Next Wednesday, July 20th, will be the second anniversary when 28 people of my extended family were killed in one single attack. The three story building where they were living was bombarded by jet fighters at sunset, when they were just setting around the table getting ready to have their Iftar meal. Among those who were killed were 19 children and three pregnant women. The incident occurred during the July-August, 2014 Israeli offensive on Gaza. According to various UN reports, 2,189 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli forces in the July-August offensive, the deadliest and most destructive escalation since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967. Of the initially verified cases resulting from “Operation: Protective Edge”, 1,486 are believed to be civilians, including 513 children (323 boys and 190 girls) and 269 women. The protection of children has been a major concern, with child casualties now exceeding the combined number of children killed in the two previous offensives in Gaza, which was 350 in 2008-9 and 35 in 2012. In the last attack on Gaza, OCHA reported that least 2,979 Palestinian children were reportedly injured, making up 30% of the total injuries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was not the only one in Gaza Community Mental Health Programme whose family was affected during the last offensive, Hassan Zeyada, a clinical psychologist and the head of our Gaza Community Center lost also during a similar bombardment 6 members of his family including his mother, three brothers, his nephew and his brother’s wife. Osama Ramlawi, one of our admin colleagues lost his brother who was just standing in the street in front of his house when he was struck by deadly shrapnel. An independent medical fact-finding mission organized by four health and human rights organizations (Physicians For Human Rights – Israel, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights – Gaza, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and The Palestinian Center for Human Rights- Gaza) and involving eight independent international medical experts concluded that the attacks were characterised by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighbourhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property and failed to take the requisite precautions that would effectively enable the safe evacuation of the civilian population, including provision of safe spaces and routes. As a result, there was no guaranteed safe space in the Gaza Strip, nor were there any safe escape routes from it. As a result of the prolonged bombardment and the lack of safety, the mission recommended investigating the impact of war on mental health and broader social determinants of health on Gaza. The mission report clearly stresses on the psychosocial and mental health impact of the conflict. The report shows that hospitalized patients were exhibiting emotional symptoms of trauma, including insomnia, flashbacks, nightmares, screaming, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression and labile emotional states. The people of Gaza according to the mission report also were feeling cut off from the rest of the world which was psychologically challenging for them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the attacks were over, we in GCMHP felt that it was our duty to help the people recover and find hope in the future. Despite the losses we had during the 50 day attacks and that many of us left their homes and were displaced, we decided that our own fight began. The fight against the feeling of sadness and loss of hope. Together we helped each other overcome our difficulties and sorrows and extended our hands to help people in Gaza Strip. Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, that was founded by the late Psychiatrist and Human Rights activist Dr Eyad El-Sarraj stood up for its beliefs, vision and mission and helped as many as possible of those who lost their beloved ones or property.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite all the efforts, we still feel the difficulty in helping people recover, as the most of the (18,000) fully destroyed residencies are not rebuilt yet. It’s not a secret that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism proved to be a burden on reconstruction rather than a facilitating mechanism and about 60,000 Palestinians are still internally displaced. In August, 2014 GCMHP anticipated that we will be not only dealing with the impact of the traumatic events but also on the losses associated with it. Today we are dealing also with the increased level of poverty and unemployment rate which reaches about 60% of new graduates resulting from the strict siege on Gaza which paralyzed trade and industry. The need for a political intervention that would end the suffering of people in Gaza strip and Palestine and give us the chance to help people recover. An intervention that would make people feel safe, secured and free. Today we need to end the occupation and restore hope.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sorry to burden you with all of these details, but there are efforts need to be done in order to build peace. Peace that is based on justice and respect of other’s rights and dignity. Peace that we mostly need in many parts of the world. I would like to encourage you all to help change things on the ground and to make a move. I know that all of you are interested in helping, but we also need action.

Thanks you very much for your attention and kind time.

Have a very nice day.

Yasser Abu Jamei