December 31st, 2008
This morning brings the awful news, via the Toronto Star, that the Gaza Community Mental Health Center was bombed and destroyed by Israeli planes. The article asserts that it stands not far from a police station. But a picture I saw the other day had no buildings nearby. The attack raises the question if the Israelis are now targeting the civilian infrastructure, such as health facilities, so as to make life in the Gaza concentration camp even more unlivable than it has been over the several years of blockade. After all, there can’t be many targets left of any “military” significance. If the Israeli government is going to win reelection, they will need to find many more targets to justify keeping up the attack. Given the paucity of detailed information coming out of Gaza, it will be a while till we can get an accurate picture of the nature of the targets and the devastation occurring in Gaza.
As I posted in February 2007, the staff of the Center had no compunctions criticizing the fratricidal conflict among Palestinians that was tearing Gaza apart. They were certainly no front for Hamas.
I am beside myself with this news. As usual, tragedy becomes horror when you feel some personal connection.
A proposal as been made for psychologists to take up a collection to rebuild the Center. We shall see where that will go. Of course, I will report here any developments:
Dealing with psychological aftershocks of bloodshed
Mental health workers scramble to offer aid after bombing destroys Gaza community centre
By Oakland Ross
JERUSALEM–You could tell from his voice, not to mention his words, that Ahmed Abu-Tawahina was struggling to contain his anger.
“The whole building has been destructed last night by Israeli air jets,” he said, in his flawed but evocative English. “All, the whole building, has been destructed – all the walls, the windows, the partitions, the computers.”
Tawahina was describing the sorry state of the four-storey building that houses – or used to house – the Gaza Community Mental Health Centre and most of its 150 employees.
Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the northern reaches of Gaza City, the building had the misfortune to stand not far from a police post that was destroyed by Israeli bombs late Monday night.
Although the building itself still stands, much of the structure and almost all of its contents have been wrecked.
“I called our major donors this morning – the Swiss, Sweden, Norway, the Dutch,” said Tawahina, who by this time had returned to his home in central Gaza after viewing the destruction. “I informed them what had happened.”
Fortunately, no one was occupying the building when the bombs hit nearby. The night watchman happened to be outdoors on the opposite side of the structure when the blast occurred.
“The guard took good security measures,” said Tawahina.
Or he was simply lucky.
Now, at a time when their services are needed more desperately than ever, the centre’s staff must somehow carry on with their duties, without the benefit of their headquarters, their records, or their computers.
“We are going to undertake our responsibilities directly from our homes,” said Tawahina. “We will do visits to hospitals and homes.”
On Monday, before the loss of his building, Tawahina appeared as a guest on a radio program in Gaza, during which he tried to counsel parents on how to keep their children calm and secure during the relentless Israeli bombardment then entering its third straight day and now beginning its fifth.
He found it difficult to come up with much in the way of useful advice, apart from telling parents to do the obvious – keep their kids indoors, try to come up with some activities to keep them distracted.
“Words cannot reflect the real situation in Gaza,” he said yesterday. “`Stress,’ `trauma,’ `lack of safety’ – these are irrelevant words. It is catastrophic. Parents who are supposed to protect their children are unable to protect themselves. The parents are scared themselves.”
He had just completed a 40-kilometre round trip by car, a nerve-rattling drive to his ruined office and back, and he was still a little worse for the experience.
“It was risky,” he said. “The risk is there in every metre.”
According to one recent study, more than 60 per cent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder – the result of economic distress, social breakdown, and frequent Israeli military strikes aimed at Palestinian militants and their infrastructure, strikes that often claim civilian lives.
Tawahina has a term for the resulting condition. He calls it the Gaza syndrome, and it so far seems to be an incurable state. But the current Israeli offensive, which has claimed more than 370 lives, is worse than anything he has known.
“Parents are sitting totally powerless, facing their fate,” Tawahina said. “The people in Gaza are like experimental animals. Put them in a cage. Expose them to electrical shocks from all sides. Then they will stay in the middle of the cage, helpless and doing nothing.
“This is the situation of the people in Gaza.”