There Are No More Secrets Here: Medical Professionals Protest Being Denied Entry to Gaza
Alice Rothchild, MD, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken
Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience
(Pluto Press), www.brokenpromisesbrokendreams.com. On October
26, she and more than a hundred other international medical and
psychiatric professionals were denied entry to Gaza by Israeli
officials when they attempted to attend a conference sponsored
by the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, the conference
attenders knocked on the gates of the Erez Crossing checkpoint
and held a rally when police pushed them away. The conference
was held in Ramallah instead, with a constant video link between
Ramallah and Gaza.
My name is Alice Rothchild. I stand here today as a US physician, author, and participant in the Gaza conference, "Siege and Mental Health." We strongly protest the decision by the Israeli authorities to deny entry permits to 120 international academics and concerned professionals. We have traveled from all over the world to present important research and to freely exchange ideas on the consequences of the repeated and ongoing trauma to the men, women, and children living in Gaza and to discuss how best to meet their clinical needs.
The Fourth Geneva Convention recognizes the international right of health care personnel to provide care and perform their professional duties without restriction in all circumstances. The State of Israel presents itself as a democracy where academic and press freedoms are respected. Today all of these principles have been gravely violated.
On September 2, 2008, I received a personal invitation to attend the international conference in Gaza on Mental Health and the Siege, organized by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and the World Health Organization (WHO), and immediately applied for a permit from the appropriate Israeli authorities.
Subsequently, I was informed that the WHO office in Gaza had submitted requests on behalf of 80 international professionals from the US, UK, Canada, Holland and Italy. Forty other academics requested entry visas via other avenues.
On October 13, WHO was informed that all requests for entry were denied. Subsequent conversations with members of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel who contacted the relevant authorities, revealed that this denial of access was a political rather than a security-related decision.
I am a practicing physician from Boston and an Assistant Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Harvard Medical School. I am also the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience. In my book I explore the consequences of occupation using experiences working with Israeli and Palestinian clinicians, patients, and families. I have been to Gaza at the Jabalya Refugee Camp and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and interviewed families and children with traumatic stress disorders.
I can only ask the Israeli authorities who made this decision to deny me and my colleagues entry permits:
What do you have to hide?
What are you ashamed we may see?
What are you afraid we may say?
There are no more secrets here.
Gaza is in the midst of a massive economic, political and humanitarian catastrophe. The infrastructure, economy, health care, and educational systems are collapsing under the weight of the blockade and repeated military incursions. Families are collapsing from the trauma of Israeli military assaults, sonic booms, home demolitions, and the inability of parents to protect their own children. Youth are particularly vulnerable to the trauma of repeated experiences of violence and the loss of all hope.
To the Israeli authorities who denied internationals access, I
say: You cannot hide, the world is watching. You may be building
walls, but we in the international community are building bridges.
In two hours we will travel to Erez Crossing to protest your decision.
You may deny us entry, but we will still confer with our colleagues
by video conference in Ramallah, bear witness to the suffering
in the region, and listen to the research. We will stand in solidarity
with the good people of Gaza who are struggling to heal their
devastating wounds stemming from the continued occupation and
siege, home demolitions, and the imprisonment of 1.5 million people.
We, the international community, will not remain silent.