by Patricia Campbell
I felt great sadness when I learned the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) building was destroyed by Israeli bomber jets on December 31.
The four-story building overlooks the Mediterranean Sea in the northern part of Gaza City. With 150 employees, the Programme is supported by international donors and was fast becoming a centre of excellence in providing psychological therapies and treatment of trauma-related illnesses.
In June, 2007, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza, allowing no one in or out of the area without its permission.
Last October, I was part of an international delegation to Gaza. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the GCMHP had organized a conference, “Siege and Mental Health – Walls vs Bridges.” Mental health practitioners, doctors and academics from all over the world attended to share their expertise on how a siege can affect mental health.
Working as a Community Psychiatric Nurse in Belfast, I was scheduled to present a paper showing how 30 years of war in Northern Ireland has damaged the minds of individuals who now suffer major mental illness.
Conference participants were denied access to Gaza, despite our protest at the Erez border. To get around this problem, the conference was conducted by video link between Ramallah City in the West Bank and participants in Gaza.
After the conference, I maintained contact with GCMHP staff. I looked forward to a continuing exchange of ideas and learning from one another. I was highly impressed with their innovative and progressive service delivery, their empowerment programmes, their attention to mental health and staff training needs. I had high hopes that we in Belfast could follow by example.
The loss of the GCMHP is especially acute as the death toll rises in Gaza and hundreds of thousands of people are severely traumatized.
After viewing the destroyed building, Dr Ahmad Abu Tawahina, the Director General of the GCMHP, announced that the GCMHP was suspending its services indefinitely because “every metre traveled is a risk, as Israeli air strikes continue over Gaza.”
Israel targets medical personnel
On 31 December, medical crews attempting to treat a wounded victim from Jabal Kashif in northeast Gaza were hit by helicopter fire. Dr. Ihab Madhun, medic Muhammad Abu Hasireh and the injured victim were all killed.
On January 3, after the home of the Dabbabish family in Sheikh Radwan was bombed, a medical crew entered to evacuate the wounded. The house was bombed again, and medic Ayyad Ahmad was critically wounded.
On January 4, an ambulance belonging to the Al Awda Hospital in Beit Lahiya was hit by helicopter fire. Arfa Abd al Daim, a senior volunteer medic was killed and two other medical personnel were critically injured.
On January 4, a tank fired on an ambulance attempting to evacuate a family in Tel Alhawa. Inass Fadil Naim, Yassir Shabir and Rifaat Abdel Al were all killed.
We must stop Israel’s barbaric war. We must rebuild the GCMHP and other essential services in Gaza.
Demand that your government press for an immediate stop to the Israeli bombing.
Join a protest at the Israeli or American consulate nearest you.
Patricia Campbell works as a community psychiatric nurse in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is also president of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland and a founder of the UNIVERSI health workers’ union.