While most people tend to focus on the physical repercussions of the humanitarian situation and repeated Israeli military operations in Gaza, the unseen mental health consequences are just as grave. According to the United Nations, over 300,000 children in Gaza suffer from severe difficulties as a result of ongoing trauma and post-trauma associated with exposure to war, violence and poverty.
In these extreme circumstances, the work of mental health professionals becomes all the more critical. In order to provide the best possible assistance and care, professionals must be allowed access to conferences and other opportunities for professional development to develop their expertise. This issue was at the heart of a petition we filed recently on behalf of N., a psychologist from Gaza who works for a not-for-profit non-governmental organization that provides free psychological support to families and children suffering from trauma.
A few months ago, N. was invited to take part in a professional conference in Holland on the specific type of treatment for trauma in which she specializes. Three weeks before the conference, N. submitted an application for a permit from Israel to travel abroad via Erez and Allenby Bridge crossings. A week before the conference was due to begin, the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) at Erez notified Gisha that N.’s application had been denied on the grounds that it doesn’t meet Israel’s criteria for travel of Palestinians from Gaza abroad. When we asked the CLA to send us its incomprehensible decision in writing, their representative responded that her application would be sent for reconsideration.
Six days before the conference, and still without an official answer from Israeli authorities, we submitted a petition (Hebrew) on behalf of N., arguing that her application does indeed meet Israel’s criterion for travel to ‘special conferences abroad.’ We explained the importance of allowing mental health professionals from Gaza to access professional opportunities, and argued that even if N.’s application did not fall under Israel’s narrow interpretation of the criterion, Israeli authorities should use their discretion to approve it.
Shortly after the petition was filed, the CLA approved N.’s request to travel to the conference in Holland. It is highly unfortunate that Israel only arrived at this decision following our legal intervention.
Given Israel’s comprehensive and substantial control over the reality of life in the Strip, it owes obligations to residents of the Strip, including a duty to protect Gaza residents’ right to freedom of movement. Far from trying to block people’s path to professional development, Israel should be doing all that is within its power to make sure families and children in Gaza can receive the care and support they deserve, including by enabling professionals from the Strip to access the training they need.