“Eyewitness Gaza, a journey of pain and hope”

given by Dr Jafer Qureshi.

The speaker is a consultant psychiatrist and former chairman of the health committee of the Muslim Council of Britain and a trustee of the charity Muslim Aid.

Muslim Aid is a major charity with £35 million to disburse. It is similar in its aims to CAFOD and operates in 65 countries. It works in the Holy land and has links with the Catholic hierarchy.

He described the position in Gaza is “dire” and that it is not permissible  to overlook this fact. He held that “silence is betrayal”, a phrase used by Martin Luther King and recently repeated by Donald Moore SJ the director of interfaith relations at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem .

Following the Israeli incursion into Gaza in December 2008, ending on the 11th January 2009, he and a few others in  a small party consisting of  two clinical psychologists and a journalist, gained entry to Gaza from Egypt. They were told that they were at risk of kidnap or worse but felt that “like the followers of Christ”, they were responding to their destiny.

In fact, they were treated with great friendship and hospitality by the people who had themselves sufferer great loss. Despite this, they found themselves amongst a people who were resilient and resourceful making prostheses from wood and bricks from mud as cement and metals were unavailable.

Access to Gaza is confined to 3 days a month and strictly controlled by the Israelis who man the borders and patrol the sea.  Much aid is piling up on the border and a little does make its way through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

They found that the economic centre of Gaza was almost totally destroyed. He illustrated this with a DVD taken by his party. The destruction extended to the hospitals which were without gas or even sewage. The ambulance and emergency department had been singled out for attack and were in a state of complete carnage.

The Gaza population were people of strong faith in their destiny and of indomitable courage and unbroken. They shared what little they have between themselves and there was no starvation though the economy had been largely destroyed. There is a population of 1.5 million confined to an area 40km long and 4km wide. They are living under a virtual siege and there was a danger of generalised helplessness.

The land itself was very fertile and the relief mission set itself several  tasks in the short time it was there. It established a bakery supplying 60,000 people with bread. In answer to a question he said that 55% of the population were children most of whom had been traumatised.

The main problem now, after addressing the needs of the injured was post traumatic stress disorder, especially in these children. This showed itself in irritability, violence, depression, aggression, regression, bedwetting and the inability to cry. His particular project was to train teachers and parents in how to address this through art, self expression , symbolism and play.

There were now some sign of “green shoots” with children, who formally could only expressed themselves in drawings of violence or pain, gradually turning to normal   pictures. He drew attention to one child who began by drawing a black face in a barren landscape shedding a tear of blood, who is now drawing normal pictures. He illustrated this with a DVD in which these images featured

His work could be characterised as training the teachers and parents in how to make appropriate psychological approaches. Some of the Gaza medical staff had also suffered psychological trauma  from treating those injured and he referred to one paediatrician who could not sleep since treating a a victim of a phosphorous shell.

The meeting closed with a vote of thanks from Father McGinley of St George’s friends of the Holy land group.

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