Speech at Dr. Khan’s Talk

Miriam Garfinkle, May 20, 2008

My name is Miriam Garfinkle. I am a primary care physician here in Toronto.

In the summer of 2006, several of us in Toronto, health care professionals, composed a letter sent to all media and MPs, speaking out against the increasing misery and destabilization of Gaza. The letter was signed by 100 health care professionals across Canada.

In the spring of 2007, Dr. El-Sarraj, director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme in Gaza, called out to the world community for help to end the ‘siege of Gaza’. This siege refers to Israel’s increasing blockade of necessities leading to severe shortages and deteriorations particularly in Gaza’s health care sector. Our group wrote a second letter in response this callout in the fall of 2007 which we used to lobby various MPs and government officials.

This crisis in Gaza was superimposed on an increasingly deteriorating health care status among the population – prevailing anemia in infants, increasing stunted growth in children and general poor health from increasing poverty and deteriorating economic conditions among the people of Gaza.

In January 2008, Israel called Gaza a hostile entity and increased its stranglehold. Hundreds of civilians were killed including dozens of children. There have been restrictions of medications and anesthesia for surgery. In April, the main UN relief agency had to suspend its operation of food relief to 650,000 individuals for 4 days due to lack of fuel.

Moreover, the ability of people to leave for health reasons such as cancer treatment that is unavailable in Gaza has been virtually impossible with the closing of the Erez and Rafah crossings. Physicians for Human Rights Israel, has documented that many patients have been forced by Israel to give information about relatives or acquaintances as a condition for being allowed to exit and have been sent back if they do not provide information.

This collective punishment of Gaza is totally in violation of international law of course and has been denounced by many prominent humanitarian organizations.

Last March, a few of us had the privilege to meet Dr. Zvi Bentwich, an Israeli physician who is on the Board of PHR-Israel. Founded in 1988, the goal of PHR is to struggle and advocate for human rights, in particular the right to health, for people both in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The original group was established by a group of Israeli and Palestinians physicians and about 30 percent of its active participants are Palestinian. There are currently more than 1100 members.

As well as running a mobile clinic in the OT, it also advocates for individual patients who have been blocked from exiting for medical treatment particularly from Gaza. PHR takes these cases to the higher courts with some successes. It also runs an open clinic in Tel Aviv for those no legal status and no health insurance. PHR-Israel is also involved in denouncing torture as does its sister organization in the U.S. and advocating for prisoners’ health rights. Members and organizers also document the facts on the ground. An article about PHR-Israel was recently written up in the BMJ and they have recently released a report on the situation in Gaza (both of these documents are available at the side table or on their website).

We are now forming a Friends of PHR-Israel group here in Canada to support this important effort. If you are interested, please give your name and E-mail address on the sign up sheet at the side table so we may contact you.

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