Speech for Gaza Fundraiser

March 25, 2007

As you have heard from Claude, Israel continues to choke Gaza in almost all aspects of its life and violate international law. There was also an escalation of the conflict in Gaza last summer which was overshadowed by the conflict in Lebanon. In addition was the funding cuts from the world community, including Canada after the election of Hamas. As a result, the situation in Gaza has reached crisis proportions.

It has been well established in medical literature that the health of an individual or population, is most determined by factors known as the social determinants of health. These include, for example, food security, adequate housing and job security. Peace is also a social determinant of health. The people of Gaza are at risk in all respects. Three-quarters of the population live below the poverty line, 43% in deep poverty. 40% are unemployed. 70% of the population depends on food aid. Anemia among children is on the rise up to 50%. These figures have doubled in the past 5 years since the second intifada. Since the escalation of the conflict last spring, the situation has deteriorated even more. Dr. Mona El-Farra, a primary care physician in Gaza, in a phone conversation with Reem two days ago, spoke with great alarm of the increasing problem of lack of food and malnutrition.

Water supplies are precarious and sewage treatment is totally inadequate. There are desperate shortages of medical specialists and people are not able to leave Gaza for treatment that is not available within Gaza such as cancer treatments. Diagnostic facilities are unavailable to large sections of the population and procuring medicine and medical supplies has been difficult and sometimes impossible. Those that are most affected are women, children, the elderly and the handicapped.

Severe restriction of movement in the form of curfews and closures has prevented medical staff from reaching clinics especially those in more remote areas. Sometimes doctors and community health workers cannot pass through particular Israeli military checkpoints for days or weeks and ambulances have been denied passage. Women have sometimes been forced to deliver their babies at checkpoints.

Israel’s policies of collective punishment have had severe health consequences the most obvious of course being the killings and injury by the Israeli military of hundreds of civilians 1/3 of whom are children. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, between June and October 2006, there were 247 fatalities, 155 of whom were civilians including 57 dead children. There were 996 injuries including 337 children.

Part 2 ... later in the evening:

The two organizations that are the recipients of the funds raised tonight (Gaza Community Mental Health Program and the Union of Health Work Committees) are very worthy of our support. They are examples of the work of resilient health care providers who have been struggling to provide adequate grassroots primary care and mental health care in Gaza against these mounting odds. They are also striving to build independence from the many aid agencies that have been providing what the British Medical Journal calls the “palliative effect of aid” which is ultimately not sustainable.

The fact is however that without the ability of the people of Gaza and the West Bank to develop their own sustainable social structure and economy, the future is untenable. This of course means Palestinian self-determination, an end to the Israeli occupation and a viable land that Palestinians can call home on which they can build their future. This requires our ongoing support.

Tanya Reinhart, the committed Israeli human rights activist who very recently passed away, was interviewed in October 2006 for Counterpunch by Eric Hazan. She was referring to the American pressure which resulted in the pullout of Israeli settlements in Gaza. I quote her:

“I argue that the reason that the U.S. exerted even limited pressure on Israel, for the first time in recent history, was because at that moment in history it was no longer possible to ignore world discontent over its policy of blind support of Israel. This shows that persistent struggle can have an effect, and can lead governments to act. Such struggle begins with the Palestinian people, who have withstood years of brutal oppression, and who, through their spirit of zumud – sticking to their land – and daily endurance, organizing and resistance, have managed to keep the Palestinian cause alive, something that not all oppressed nations have managed to do. It continues with international struggle – solidarity movements that send their people to the occupied territories and stand in vigils at home, professors signing boycott petitions, subjecting themselves to daily harassment, a few courageous journalists that insist on covering the truth, against the pressure of acquiescent media and pro-Israel lobbies. Often this struggle for justice seems futile. Nevertheless, it has penetrated global consciousness. It is this collective consciousness that eventually forced the U.S. to pressure Israel into some, albeit limited, concessions. The Palestinian cause can be silenced for a while, as is happening now, but it will resurface.“

Thank you.

Miriam Garfinkle – March 25, 2007

Related: Children/Mental HealthGaza StripHuman Rights AbusesIsraelPalestinePalestine/OccupationPalestiniansMiriam Garfinkle