Please find below a statement by the UKPMHN Steering Group conveying our support to the peaceful demonstrations in Gaza and our horror at the violent response of the Israeli authorities. We suggest a number of actions that we can urge UK Government to take. In addition, please write to your local MP, urging them to sign Early Day Motion, which can be found here: https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2017-19/1163
The Great March of Return. Gaza. 30th March – 15th May 2018.
- The young people of Gaza are staging a series of impressive, peaceful protests, demanding their rights. Their Great March of Return confronts the conscience of a world that has done nothing to end the systematic attempt to destroy Gaza.
- They are protesting the devastation and destitution that have resulted from at least three major military onslaughts and twelve years of a siege that has created the largest prison on earth; they are asserting the right of refugees to return to their homeland, promoting the dream of two peoples living side by side as equal citizens.
- Israel has responded with its habitual use of excessive force. Live ammunition has been used against young, unarmed demonstrators posing no threat. Young people and children, women, the disabled, journalists and medical personnel have been targeted. Yet again, Israel disregards international law and civilised norms in its deliberate murder of defenceless civilians, and its use of explosive and banned munitions that result in limb amputations. Each sniper’s bullet shatters the life of a family.
- Through our contacts with colleagues in this beleaguered enclave, we have some notion of the impact that Israeli policies have had on the psychological, as well as the physical and environmental, well-being of Gaza and its people. Or rather, we are aware that none of us can fully grasp the impact of what this community has been and continues to be subjected to. It is deprived of the essentials of life that we take for granted, like water and electricity, work, the freedom to move, freedom from fear, the breakdown of infrastructure, the impact of overwhelming losses.
- Amid these conditions, our colleagues in Gaza continue to do what they can to support their fellow citizens to maintain their humanity, to feel that they are more than the restricted, degraded, brutalised and shaming ways in which they are compelled to live their lives, to keep some sense of pride and worth and to bring children some rare moments of joy. We are in awe of their resourcefulness and we have much to learn from them in terms of their psycho-social practice and their experience of culturally sensitive trauma treatment methods. They deserve our respect and support. But this support has to translate itself into action, otherwise we too become “failed witnesses”.
- As mental health professionals we should therefore not apologise for advocating political action as the first priority. We are all citizens acting out of compassion and respect for all concerned, with a responsibility to uphold human rights and civil liberties. All aspects of the Occupation impact on the mental health of both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli communities. But in Gaza the situation is absolutely critical. As well as the UN’s forecast that it will be uninhabitable by 2020, the ruthless violence visited upon Gaza’s citizens means that despair, suicidality and the disruption of family functioning undermines psychological well-being at ever more profound levels.
- The consistent message from our contacts in Gaza is that only drastic political change can create the conditions in which the physical and psychological wounds can even begin to heal. The situation calls for action to provide immediate practical relief. The siege must be ended, proper electricity and water supplies resumed, and the normal conditions for economic recovery established. Blockages to free movement of people, goods and materials have to be removed. Medical and other emergency supplies need to be provided immediately.
- Gaza is a deliberately engineered calamity. The recent atrocities are consistent with Israeli policy over the long term. Still the outrages in Gaza are met mainly with silence in Europe and the US: no doubt many have been cowed by the campaign to brand any expression of disgust at Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians as anti-Semitism. Our position is based on a belief in the universal application of Human Rights. Israel should be treated like any other state and held accountable for its crimes.
- It is therefore incumbent on us in our different professional capacities and organisations to join with other bodies in urging those UK and international institutions with the power and responsibility to uphold international law to advance the following:
- An immediate embargo on delivery or sale of arms to Israel
- A call for the International Criminal Court to institute a war crimes investigation into events in Gaza.
- An absolute refusal to tolerate the siege of Gaza, and immediate action to end it (as was demanded by a 70% majority in a vote by the European Parliament on 19 April this year).
- All our institutions and all of us as individuals might seek to match the ingenuity and courage of the young people of Gaza in devising non-violent ways to uphold international law, end the Occupation, and ensure that the rights of the Palestinians are respected.
UKPMHN Steering Group 27th April 2018