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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Un territoire dans un état de dépression collective »

by Pierre Barbancey (Interview)

The Gaza Strip: a Territory Suffering Collective Depression

Translated Thursday 23 November 2006

Gaza Strip. On 16 November, Pierre Micheletti, president of “Médecins du Monde” (1), released a report on the situation in Gaza, pointing out the extreme deterioration of living conditions in the Gaza Strip (2). An interview with l’Humanité.

HUMA: Your association, Médecins du Monde, has just published a report entitled “The Gaza Strip: The impact of the international embargo and of the attacks by the Israeli army on the health of the population” [Bande de Gaza : impact de l’embargo international et des attaques de l’armée israélienne sur l’état de santé de la population] Why was such a report needed?

PIERRE MICHELETTI: The information we are publishing in the study is several weeks old, but we felt it was important to present this today, because one feels that both the Lebanon events and the renewal of violence in the Gaza Strip are covering up the underlying problem.

Since the beginning of 2006, the embargo has of course had a huge impact. This has had two major consequences: it’s created major health problems for the population of the Gaza Strip, and it’s created a lot of difficulties in keeping the healthcare system functioning in the area. So, this report emphasizes that the problem hasn’t been resolved.

HUMA: What conclusions do you draw from the work that your teams have been able to do on the ground?

PIERRE MICHELETTI: Besides just what emerges from the figures - these at least provide objective information - more globally, our feeling is that the Gaza Strip is an area intentionally maintained in a state of artificial respiration, with the pretense of open borders which allow the people to survive, but at just a minimal level. As each month passes, the embargo is creating a growing imbalance between the health of the population and the deterioration of system of health care. Today, the Gaza Strip is in a state of collective depression. If nothing is done, if we can’t offer some hope, if the borders remain closed, the people in Gaza will have no alternative but violence.

HUMA: Given the situation, what can an organization like Médecins du Monde do?

PIERRE MICHELETTI: First, one can use the specific information which we collect: the effects of lack of water on health, of shut-down of food imports, the poor psychological health of the population of the Gaza Strip. Our health workers on the ground and the presence of other medical NGOs allow us to draw the attention of the international community on the situation of the Gaza population, who are living in an open-air prison. Moreover, we are trying to maintain our activities, especially the training of paramedical ambulance personnel, particularly importantin the context of constant violence.

HUMA: Isn’t this just another report that’s going to gather dust on the shelves?

PIERRE MICHELETTI: You can’t determine in advance the impact this report will have. But we feel it is our responsibility today, since members of our team have observed directly what is happening, to push the international community into action. Because, once more, people talk about the region and the situation of Palestinian occupied territories when something particularly violent occurs, like what happened in Beit Hanoun recently. But our position as privileged observers convinces us that we must continue to provide information on the basic problem, which is the economic embargo and its overall consequences on the 1.4 million inhabitants living in the Gaza Strip.

HUMA: In concluding your report, you appeal to the Israeli and Palestinian authorities but also to the so-called “quartet”, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN ...

PIERRE MICHELETTI: In such a complicated situation, the solution does not depend on just one of the protagonists. Without taking sides, and with our sole preoccupation being the health, particularly the mental health, of the people living in the Gaza Strip, we believe that each of these different protagonists shares their own part in the responsibility.
We are calling on the Israeli authorities to stop their indiscriminate attacks on the infrastructure of the territory and against the civilian population, to stop their aggressions, to guarantee the protection of all health personnel and to allow access to the health system to all those who are wounded. We are also calling on the Israelis to return to the Palestinian Authority the money transfers derived from VAT and from customs, because the suppression of this money is continuing to asphyxiate the Gaza Strip.

We are also calling on the Palestinian authorities to end their violent actions against the civilian population in the north of Israel and ensure that armed militants are kept out of health care facilities in order to not make things more complicated in providing care, as well as guaranteeing the safety of our health teams. We call on the United States, the European Community, Russia and the UN – the “quartet” you referred to earlier - to restore the flow of financial aid, to enable the Palestinian population to find a way out of this intolerable situation.

[Translator’s note]

1. “Médecins du Monde” is a French medical NGO, founded in 1980 by a number of doctors who had previously worked for the better-known “Médecins Sans Frontières” (Doctors without Borders or MSF).

2. The main extracts of the report are given in an accompanying article: Highlights of the “Médecins du Monde” Health Report on the Gaza Strip

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