#OpenGaza: Trauma and Hope, First Hand

Yasser Abujamei, MDPlease mark your calendars for an upcoming US speaking tour with Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei, Psychiatrist M.D. and Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and Ran Goldstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights — Israel.

The two will be touring and speaking in the US from October 11 through November 3, 2015, on the west coast and in Boston, New York and Washington, DC.

Dr. Abu Jamei and Mr. Goldstein will  be describing the dire situation of physical and psychological health in Gaza through a lens of personal experience and their efforts to help. Children are especially impacted, as shown in the staggering numbers of children killed and injured last summer and the extremely high rates of ongoing traumatic stress. The impact of ongoing violence on psychological health is exacerbated by the ongoing blockade, the destruction and defunding of schools, loss of family members and friends, and stalled reconstruction efforts.

Stay tuned for more information and specifics about dates and times of events and read more below about each of the speakers. For now, the tentative schedule for Dr. Abu-Jamei and Mr. Goldstein’s visit in the greater Boston area includes:

Thursday, Oct. 22: Boston, MA
11:30AM: Cambridge Health Alliance – Cambridge, MA
4:00 – 5:15PM: Visit to the University of Massachusetts, Boston Psychology Department for the course: “Psychological Trauma”
7:00PM: Open Community Event at First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain 633 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

Saturday, Oct. 24 – Boston, MA
Morning: Private Event
2:00-3:30PM: Open Community Event at First Church of Cambridge Congregational, 11 Garden Street (near the Sheraton Commander and a short walk from Harvard Square)
Evening: Private Event

Dr. Yasser Abu-Jamei MD, MSc, a psychiatrist, is the Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.  He was born in 1974 in Saudi Arabia and has lived in Gaza-Palestine since 2000. In 2002 he joined Gaza Community Mental Health Programme as a student in the High Diploma Programme in Community Mental Health. From June 2004 to March 2009, he worked for the Training & Research Department as a Psychiatrist-Clinical Supervisor and from March 2009 he worked as the Director of the Training and Research Department. In January 2014, he became the Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and brings a special interest in neuropsychiatry, child and adolescents psychiatry, and advocacy and policy change.  Last year on July 21, 2014 during the bombing of Gaza, twenty-eight members of Dr. Yasser’s extended family were breaking their Ramadan fast with their iftar dinner when their home was hit by an Israeli missile.  All were killed including the nineteen children and three pregnant women.

Ran Goldstein is Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. Formerly Head of Communication of ICRC Delegation to Israel and the Occupied Territories, Senior Strategy and Communications Consultant to various Israeli Civil Society Organizations. Prior to this he worked as a journalist for a number of leading Israeli media outlets. Founder and board member of a newly established Israeli NGO, “Akevot,” Institute for Israeli–Palestinian conflict research, Goldstein led numerous campaigns on human rights issues in Israel focused on most vulnerable population that live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.


New Resource: #Bissalameh

Gaza Mental Health Foundation Board member Othman Mohammad helped to create this video series and shares this update from the #Bissalameh program team:

We would like to introduce to you the first psycho-educational series of YouTube videos that addresses the effects of post-war trauma on people in the Arab region in general and in Gaza in particular. Our show is entitled ‘Bissalameh’ (Get Well) [Gaza Post-War Trauma]. This is a volunteer project designed and prepared by volunteer psychiatrists and Arab youth from different countries, in collaboration with the Gaza Mental Health Program, the Palestine Trauma Center (PTC) & the Palestinian Medical Education Initiative (PMED). We are sending this requesting your support for our mass awareness initiative by sharing the trailer posted to our page.

Our program publishes on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter a friendly and educational episode every Friday. We would highly appreciate you support by sharing our weekly episodes as well (using the share on our Facebook page).


Confronting Trauma in Gaza: Interview with Psychologist Hasan Zeyada

Al Jazeera interviewed psychologist Hasan Zeyada about increasing trauma responses in Gaza since the summer invasion. Dr. Zeyada works with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, which the Gaza Mental Health Foundation supports. In his interview, Dr. Zeyada talk about an increasing demand for mental health care and how there’s no psychological wellbeing without human rights.

Al Jazeera: How has your patient load changed since the summer war?

Hasan Zeyada: We have more cases that are referred to our centres. It’s the immediate reaction after war. A lot of people had psychological and behavioural consequences because of the trauma during the military Israeli aggression. A lot of people, they are in need of consultation, they are in need of intervention. We started to do our intervention immediately through field visits for the families who lost their homes and lost their family members, and for the injured people.

The war was brutal and it was for a long time, and it’s the third experience for the children here in Gaza, so a lot of people have already developed acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are in need of intervention.

AJ: What are the most common psychological issues stemming from the war?

HZ: We are talking about sleep disturbances, like nightmares and insomnia; for children we are also talking about night terrors and sleep walking. We are talking also about re-experiencing and flashbacks among people related to the trauma.

There is avoidance behaviour, like thinking about the trauma, avoiding the places and stimulus that will make them remember the trauma. Also we are talking about hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance; they are easily provoked, less tolerance.

There is marked impairment in daily functions and interpersonal relationships, and in work and academic achievements among their children.

Some of the people have somatic complaints like headaches, back pain, abdomen pain and general fatigue. It’s psychological, without any organic cause. It’s easier for the people to talk about physical complaints than to talk about psychological pain.

Sometimes they try to communicate with the people around them through their physical complaints, because we still have stigma and sensitivity around coming to a community mental health centre to be served. Because of that we also have our free phone counselling, which is totally confidential.

Without human rights, equitable access to wellness for Palestinians living in Gaza is under siege. Read the full interview.

May 22 Event: Report Back on Gaza – Life After the 2014 Israeli Invasion

On Friday, May 22, at 7:30 pm there is a report back from Gaza led by physicians Alice Rothchild and Bill Slaughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Share the Gaza Report Back flyer with your contacts.

The event is at the Friends Meeting at Cambridge, 5 Longfellow Park, Cambridge, near Harvard Square.

Gaza boy in rubble from Israeli invasion of 2014

Gaza boy in rubble from Israeli invasion of 2014

Dr. Rothchild and Dr. Slaughter visited the Gaza Strip in March 2015 with a medical delegation, as part of broader Israel/Palestine visits. They will share images and impressions of the destruction and extraordinary resilience that they encountered and the ongoing siege conditions. What is life like after an invasion that killed 2,200 people (582 of them children, according to UN figures) and destroyed nearly 100,000 homes?

Explore how people currently confined in the Gaza Strip – from farmers to psychiatrists – rebuild their lives amidst the devastation and political challenges.