“The closure is like a drop of ink in a pool of water, spreading everywhere, touching everything.”
— Nedaa Murtaja, Gaza psychologist
In a new visual publication launched by Gisha today, fifteen years after Israel tightened movement restrictions to and from Gaza to the point of full closure and its security cabinet declared Gaza a “hostile territory,” mental health care providers shed light on the impact of Israeli policies in the Strip on Palestinians’ mental health.
For years, basic infrastructure in Gaza has teetered on the verge of collapse; electricity is available for only half the hours of the day, more than 90% of the tap water is undrinkable, and unemployment is sky-high. Repeated military assaults have further impaired living conditions in the Strip, and led to death, injury and the destruction of property and livelihoods. Palestinians in and outside of Gaza are subjected to Israel’s stringent permit regime, which systematically denies their right to freedom of movement, tears families apart, and sentences people to a state of constant uncertainty surrounding even their most basic needs. But there is another form of damage, less visible to the eye: The long-term impact of the closure on mental health.
In late 2021, Gisha and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) convened a group of mental health professionals in Gaza for a discussion on the effects of Israel’s ongoing closure policy on mental health. They noted that hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); in many cases, anxiety caused by the ongoing closure and the state of seemingly endless war take the form of physical pain and suffering and can lead to severe depression and suicidal ideation. Research has indicated that these symptoms are also prevalent among children, who comprise half of Gaza’s population, a generation who was born into and grew up in the shadow of the closure.
The visual publication launched by Gisha today presents insights from mental health experts in Gaza who describe, in their own words, the personal and professional challenges they face. Israel’s sweeping, arbitrary and illegal movement restrictions separate care providers in Gaza from colleagues outside the Strip, prevent access to training and retreats, and trap residents of the Strip in a seemingly perpetual cycle of despair. This stands in violation of Israel’s legal obligation, as occupying power, to ensure normal life in the Strip – an obligation it persistently evades.
Care professionals and therapists in Gaza work tirelessly, in impossible circumstances, to provide care for others but in the ongoing reality of occupation, oppression and violence, what they can do to help can only go so far. This situation isn’t a natural disaster, it’s the outcome of policy. As one expert quoted in the report says: “The state of mental health in Gaza could improve drastically with a single political decision by Israel to remove the closure and allow freedom of movement. Removing the closure would have immense impact on mental health because then, at least, we would have hope.”
>> To view In Their Words: Mental Health Professionals in Gaza on Treating the Effects of Closure, click here.