Today I joined about a dozen people in Albuquerque to walk the #Gaza5k along the Rio Grande Bosque trail. As I explained here, it was for a very good cause. We were moving for mental health, specifically raising funds for UNRWA-USA to support mental health professionals working in the Gaza Strip. Their clients, Palestinian refugees, are the primary beneficiaries of the #Gaza5k.
Each step along the way, I kept thinking of the freedom of movement that I enjoy, and how moving in nature helps to keep me sane and grounded. I wish the Palestinian refugees had that same freedom. Israel’s 14-year siege of the Gaza Strip must end, with or without Israel’s consent.**
I’m pleased that UNRWA-USA exceeded its goal and raised more than $1 million. My team — the New Mexico Roadrunners — exceeded our goal of $3,500 thanks to the generosity of many individual contributions, large and small.
Many of us take our mental health for granted. I know I do. But whether it’s a family member or friend in the U.S., or refugees we’ve never met abroad, mental health is the unseen flower inside each of us. We need to nurture and care for ourselves and each other more gently and compassionately. We need to listen and reach out to each other, never assuming that we’re alone in our own struggles or assuming that the “other” is not struggling.
In Gaza, this is particularly true. A 2020 study found that the majority of children and adolescents in Gaza experienced personal trauma (88.4%), witnessed trauma to others (83.7%) and observed demolition of property (88.3%) during the war. The research is here. Also published in 2020, another study found that 38% of the young people had considered suicide at least once.
Suicide rates in Gaza have been trending upward for the last 10 years. Current average figures put the number at 562 attempts per year. The suicide rate is much higher among young men aged 18-30 who make up about 75% of all suicide deaths here, with young men shouldering the social expectation that they will provide for their family. Feeling without value and unable to seek help due to the stigma attached to mental health, young men are turning to suicide as a means of escape.
Of the 17 UN sustainable development goals, the third goal is “good health and well-being”. Israel is clearly, without any debate, failing in this regard. As the occupier responsible for the Palestinian refugees, Israel owes a duty of care towards the Palestinians under international law and must be held accountable. Failing to provide vaccines to the Palestinians during this pandemic is just the latest example of Israel’s disregard for their health and well-being, not to mention Israel’s most recent military campaign against Gaza that left 66 Palestinian children dead and wiped out three entire families (generations) from the population registry.
Mental health should be a human right.
Our brothers and sisters in Gaza deserve no less.
The organization that is best positioned and equipped to provide those critical services to the Palestinian refugees is UNRWA-USA. From the bottom of my heart, I thank UNRWA-USA for stepping up to meet the tremendous needs and challenges in Gaza (food, education, health care). I thank my friends and family for stepping up and generously answering my request for donations. And I thank my #Gaza5k team who stepped up and shared their love and commitment to raise the funds for mental health services to Palestinians in Gaza. Together, we did it.
If you would like to contribute to UNRWA-USA’s campaign to support mental health services in Gaza, please make a donation online here. Thank you.
** Yes, I’m talking about breaking Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip.