Palestinian children play football in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)
Today marks the 60th anniversary of International Human Rights Day. It is the day the United Nations declared the issuance of the International Declarations of Human Rights to put new international foundations for enforcing and respecting the sacred life and dignity of all human beings. It is a noteworthy coincidence that the birth of this declaration shares the anniversary of the Palestinian uprooting in 1948, still experienced by Palestinians up until today.
This occasion comes as Palestine and the whole Middle East region are immersed in continuing violence, political instability and violations of human rights. Palestinian people are witnessing tremendous violations of their rights. Moreover, Israel has continued tightening a strict political and economical siege as well as partitioning the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and restricting freedom of movement, controlling Palestinian civil life, and converting the Gaza Strip into a huge prison.
Israel has prevented international visitors, including relief workers, journalists, and diplomats — as well as all Palestinian citizens in Gaza Strip — movement to and from Gaza, as well as patients (except a few numbers of critical cases), students, businessmen and families, converting 1.5 million Gazans into detainees. The prevention of goods and basic raw materials — needed for humanitarian life — has led to paralysis in all aspects of life, and an almost entire collapse of the Palestinian economy, as well as a serious rise in the poverty rates and unemployment. Such conditions have led to alarming humanitarian and psychological repercussions.
Siege and closures have negative consequences on the mental health conditions of Palestinians. The Palestinian environment today is a combination of deprivation, poverty, feelings of anger, frustration, hopelessness, feelings of powerlessness and despair. Moreover, such an atmosphere leaves serious mental consequences with the Palestinian people, inevitably leading to further anger that will develop into more violence and defiance. Furthermore, the psychological suffering is reflected in the high levels of domestic, tribal and community violence in general.
Additionally, the results of research studies reveal the correlation between anger and violence and siege with their traumatizing impacts, on the one hand, and the negative behavior of children and their attitudes in terms of social and political peace, on the other hand. Palestinian children are suffering from feelings of abandonment and neglect as a result of the inability of their parents to fulfill their basic needs, including providing food and security. In addition, the feelings of resentment, oppression, defiance and extremism will leave catastrophic psychological scars on the next Palestinian generation.
The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) warns against the serious impact of the continuation of these conditions that, if continued, will lead to a severe and dangerous deterioration in the mental health among the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip in particular and in Palestine in general. We at GCMHP call on the international community and human rights organizations to immediately intervene in order to pressure Israel to stop strangling the Gaza Strip. Israel’s actions aggregate Palestinian humanitarian suffering and will lead to more political and security deterioration in the region and the world.
Furthermore, 120 international academics and researchers, participants of GCMHP’s fifth international conference, entitled “Siege and Mental Health,” held in October 2008 in partnership with the World Health Organization, were prevented by Israel from entering Gaza in blatant violation of principles of academic freedom. The participants have issued a press statement in which they called for the immediate end of the siege of the Gaza Strip; allowing freedom of movement for individuals and goods; and efforts to genuinely to end the conflict and reach a just peace according to UN resolutions and past agreements made and broken. Moreover, the participants called to intensify efforts to articulate opposition to the siege, and commit to support international law and seek peace as the siege will hurt Israelis as well in the long run.
On the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, we call upon the international community, especially the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and human rights organizations to fulfill their responsibilities and urge all countries to respect articles of international law. We urgently appeal to the international community to rescue and protect Palestinians citizens and to break the Israeli-imposed siege. We also urge them to pressure Israel to prevent its continued violations of Palestinian human rights in all of its forms, and to urgently act to lift the siege imposed on the Palestinian people.
This press release has been edited for clarity.