Press Release: October 20, 2008
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
Walls triumph over bridges…conference on siege is a victim of siege
In a shocking turn, the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme found their International Conference, "Siege and Mental Health… Walls vs. Bridges" under siege. The conference was scheduled to be held on 27-28 October in the Gaza strip. However, following one year of planning and preparation, the academic conference has been disrupted by the Israeli Authorities decision to deny admittance to the international conference participants, only two weeks prior the conference. What better irony to highlight the effects of the siege?
The conference has been organized to serve as a forum for professional discussion and scientific exchange concerning the impact of the Gaza siege on children, families, and communities and peace-making efforts. The plan is to gather top researchers and academics from around the world to build bridges for dialogue, mutual acknowledgment, and peace. Some 120 participants from universities around the world were scheduled to attend. 25 of them are presenting papers and original research. The main themes of the conference are addressing professional, mental health and human rights matters.
If Israel imposes strict siege on the whole population of Gaza strip for "security reason", as claimed, we wonder, how could such a conference constitute a threat to the Israeli security.
These actions represent a profound blow to the rights of academic freedom, free speech, education, and cultural dialogue"
We view this action as an action to block communication, distort the platform for mutual acknowledgment, understanding, and admitting the suffering of others.
Once again, and unlike what is claimed, Israel - as an occupying power- is proving that it is controlling the Gaza Strip, preventing people from entry or exit.
Despite all the challenges, we are determined that the conference will go ahead. We plan that the internationals will participate in Ramallah with a video link to Gaza for the local participants who are prevented by the Israelis from leaving.
We affirm that, If Israel can impose siege on our bodies, they cannot besiege our minds and interaction with the outside world. Despite the unjust decision, we have the determination to continue with the conference as planned. We aim to be able to achieve goals of the conference as well as raising awareness about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of siege on the civilian population of Gaza .
We demand the Israeli authorities to change their decision and allow conference participants to enter Gaza.
Finally, we urge our participants, friends, solidarity groups, human rights organizations, and mental health communities, to protest against this decision, denounce it, and expose the ongoing Israeli policies and violations of human rights.
For more information, please contact Husam El-Nounou
Public Relations Director
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
120 academics, physicians and health professionals from around the world, invite you to attend a <p>PRESS CONFERENCE </p>Sunday, 26th of October, 10am <p>The Ambassador Hotel, East Jerusalem </p>We, the conference participants, protest the decision of the Israeli authorities to deny the entry of 120 international experts into the Gaza Strip for the purpose of attending the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme 5th International Conference, in cooperation with the World Health Organisation, on the subject of “Siege and Mental Health, Walls vs. Bridges,” scheduled to take place in Gaza City between the 27th and the 28th of October 2008. <p>Representative speakers: </p>Prof. Alice Rothschild, Harvard Medical School, USA, <p>Prof. Dr. W.H.G. Wolters, the Netherlands, </p>Prof. Federico Allodi, University of Toronto, Canada, <p>Dr. Ghada Karmi, University of Exeter, UK, </p>Prof. James Deutsch, University of Toronto, Canada, <p>Judy Deutsch, psychiatric social worker, Toronto, Canada, </p>Dr. Eyyad Sarraj, Gaza (by telephone). <p>We protest this last-minute decision by the Israeli authorities and regard it as a deliberate attempt to stop professional communication and exchange between the international medical community and Gaza medical professionals. </p>In the course of the conference information will be provided about the decision-making process by the Israeli authorities, the position of the participants on this decision, and the impact of the ongoing siege policy on health and mental health in the Gaza Strip. <p>To confirm participation / for further details: </p>Dr. Alan Meyers at 0549 036938, Prof. James Deutsch at 054 2852669, or Prof. Alice Rothschild at 0546 388 633. <p>Background </p>28th of September - request for entry submitted: The World Health Organisation (WHO) representative office in Gaza submitted a request for an entry permit to the Israeli authorities at Erez Crossing, on behalf of 80 experts, mental health professionals and other health professionals, from numerous countries, including USA, Holland, Italy, UK and Canada, for the purpose of attending the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme 5th International Conference, hosted this year in cooperation with the World Health Organisation, and scheduled to take place in Gaza City between the 27th and the 28th of October 2008. 40 other academics had requested entry via other avenues. <p>The conference, titled “Siege and Mental Health, Walls vs. Bridges,” aims to describe and assess the wider mental health and health effects of the ongoing siege policy imposed by the Israeli government on the 1.4 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Many of the participants had prepared presentations on their own work on violence, social stress, and poverty, as well as the mental health of children. </p>13th of October – request denied: The Israeli military authorities at Erez Crossing informed the WHO representative that all requests had been refused. No reason was given for the decision, and no specific security or other consideration was cited. <p>Response: The intended conference participants, who had already paid for their flights and arranged for their travel, decided to arrive in the region despite the prohibition, and to express protest and solidarity with their professional colleagues and with the 1.4 million inhabitants of Gaza by gathering for a rally at Erez Crossing, as well as participating in the conference through long distance video conference facilities, from the city of Ramallah in the West Bank. </p><p></p>