The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must end

By Miriam Garfinkle
September 2008

I am a family doctor, Jewish, born and raised in Toronto. I have been on sick leave since last October, dealing with cancer – surgeries, chemotherapy and all its implications. I need to be focusing on my healing both physical and emotional. Yet the people in Gaza especially the children, fill my mind and heart. There is a humanitarian disaster there which we hear little about and even less is being done to bring it to an end. I feel a special responsibility as a Jew to speak out about this. Israel is acting in ways which I must condemn.

Qusai Issa, who was four years old, died in Gaza on February 2, 2008 from a childhood cancer, a neuroblastoma. He is one of hundreds of patients who have died in the last couple of months as a result of being denied permission by Israel to leave Gaza for treatment which is not available there. As well, hundreds have been killed or wounded, many of them children by the Israeli army.

The current blockade by Israel has been imposed on a people already suffering from the effects of war and of increasing poverty. In April 2006, 79 per cent of households in Gaza were living in poverty and the numbers are far worse now. The results are reflected in deteriorating health conditions of the children in the Occupied Territories but particularly in Gaza – seventy per cent of nine-month-old infants are now anemic and 15% of children are stunted in growth due to malnutrition.

There has been deep emotional trauma to the children of Gaza caused by the regular witnessing of deaths and injuries, home demolitions by Israel and the humiliation of their family members by Israeli soldiers. There is no such thing as “post-traumatic” for these children. The trauma is continuous and pervasive and the safety factors of family and community are being destroyed. Whereas a Canadian soldier witnessing war in Afghanistan returns home to a place of safety to heal and recover, there is no safe place for these children now or in the foreseeable future.

Over two hundred children at the Atfaluna Society for the Deaf in Gaza are no longer able to use their hearing aids as result of the battery shortage caused by the Israeli blockade. Last April for five days consecutively, the UN relief agency in Gaza was unable to supply food to the 650,000 people who depend on the UN for food security. This was due to a lack of fuel due to the blockade. That month as well, the main hospital in Gaza, Shifa Hospital, was forced to close its operating room due to lack of anesthetics as a result of the blockade. There are serious shortages of medications and the interruptions in electricity have resulted in serious problems in water treatment and the running of medical equipment. In fact, the health system is in a state of collapse.

I have recently become a supporting member of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. This is a group of Israelis and Palestinians working together to provide health care to the vulnerable within Israel and the West Bank and Gaza and advocating for the basic right to health care of everyone. They have documented cases of seriously ill patients who have been interrogated by the Israeli army for security information about family or friends as a precondition for being allowed to leave from Gaza for health treatment. There have been cases of people turned back when they did not provide this information. This is of course a complete violation of human rights.

Israel says the blockade is for security reasons. Can the suffering of a whole population including children, collectively, be justified by this end? Israel’s actions clearly contravene international law, the law which reflects our international moral standard and to which Israel and Canada have pledged to adhere. Why is the world community not challenging these violations? Why is Canada so silent?

Recently Israel’s courts ruled that Gaza is no longer an occupied territory. This is of course is not reality. In fact this state of siege is the severest form of occupation. As such the occupying power has a legal responsibility, again under international law, for the well-being of the citizens of the territory it is occupying.

The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must end. The dispossession of the Palestinians must be fully acknowledged and Israel must reach out to embrace the full rights of Palestinians to nationhood and viability. Only then will the nightmare end that is the reality of the Palestinian people living in the Occupied Territories and the refugee camps. And only with that can there be any hope for a real peace for all the peoples living in the region.

Dr. Miriam Garfinkle is a primary care physician in Toronto.