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Walls Triumph Over Bridges
October 20, 2008
A conference about the effects of siege has itself come under siege. Only one week before an international conference, Israel announced that foreign health professionals will not receive permission to enter Gaza for a conference that has taken over one year to organize. ‘Siege and Mental Health – Walls vs. Bridges’ is a joint effort of the Gaza Community Health Programme and the World Health Organization. The conference, which begins Monday October 27, aims to better understand siege and mental health, democracy and civil society, and a range of public health and human rights issues. Organizers expressed shock and immense disappointment, stating: “We feel strongly that these actions represent a profound blow to the rights of academic freedom, free speech, education, and cultural dialogue. We have maintained that this conference is not political, but academic and scientific in nature.“
Although Gaza is technically not occupied since Israel dismantled Jewish settlements in 2005, Israel continues to control all land, sea, and air borders. Daily life has markedly deteriorated since then. Over the last year, Israel has blocked the passage of food and basic medical supplies into Gaza, and its 1.5 million inhabitants depend on the UN for the basic necessities of life. Impoverishment and political in-fighting bring extreme hardship to Gazans, yet services such as the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children continue to provide a high quality of humane and thoughtful care to the community and are internationally respected programmes.
Because of Israel’s blockade, the five Canadian health professionals who are attending the conference will participate via video link from the West Bank. Dr. Federico Allodi, a psychiatrist long involved with human rights and work with victims of torture, will speak about the “The Siege of Gaza in History: Mental Health and Behavioral Implications.“ Canadian psychoanalyst Judith Deutsch, who will present a paper on the exploitation of children, commented on the frustration and tragic irony that talking and working together is perceived as a security risk.
For more information contact:
Email: j.deutsch [at] utoronto.ca
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