On Monday night, August 15th, a group of mental health professionals were refused entry to the communities in Northern Samaria, after being also refused entry to Katif communities last week.

The government of Israel has formally closed all social services to Katif, with is expected to close these services in Samaria in the near future, yet is not allowing other agencies to fill the gap.

The group turned down yesterday, formed under the wing of Lemaan Achai, is an award-winning social service agency, comprising 45 psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers with expertise ranging from trauma and crisis relief in the Tsunami, East Asia and Turkey, to bereavement counseling and working with severely troubled adolescents.

After the IDF refused an entry permit for the entire team to enter Gush Katif to supplement the care workers there, they decided to send a small group of social workers to monitor the situation in Chomesh, Northern Samaria and provide a needs assessment.

However the group was stopped at a checkpoint near Shovei Shomron and remained for close to 3 hours during fruitless attempts to gain entry from the on-duty soldiers, IDF Spokesperson’s Office and the office of the Minister of Defense.

The Head of the Chomesh Council and the Barkan Region Social Services both requested permission for the Lemaan Achai group to enter, but were rebuffed.

David Morris, Managing Director of an Electro-Optics Company and Founder and Chairperson of Lemaan Achai, was on the bus, “I have participated in international aid missions,” said Morris, “Volunteering in Africa and Bosnia, and I am outraged that I am being prevented from providing emergency aid and crisis relief in my own country”

Morris continued, “Many of the residents in Chomesh have agreed to be evacuated, but they have nowhere to go, nor have they received the compensation packages promised by the government. The Social Services department in Gush Katif has now been officially closed down, which means that the mental health professionals there, many of whom are themselves residents, are volunteering and cannot bring in support services.”

“What most concerns me is that the IDF is allowing only journalists and moving trucks inside what they have determined to be a closed military zone. They are not allowing in mental health professionals and therefore no mental health monitoring can take place in case of a potential crisis. The government is literally placing these residents under siege.”

Carmi Wisemon, Director of Social Services at Lemaan Achai, described the purpose of their mission, “We were asked to carry out needs assessments of the Chomesh residents who were promised compensation packages by the government that they have not received. This is preventing them from leaving – one case is that of a 52 year old successful businessman, who has run a local business here for 25 years. He completed the paperwork agreeing to abandon his four-story house, for which he has not yet received compensation and was informed he would be placed in a caravilla in Yad Chana, but their allotted spot turns out to be an empty field. Until homes are actually erected there, he has been told he will be staying in a hotel in Eilat. We have been told that this man is displaying suicidal tendencies – which is not too surprising given the fact that he has absolutely no control over his life at present – yet we aren’t allowed in either to assess him or to help him. And even the information I have just told you has been gathered over the telephone – we can’t make a real assessment because we can’t get in.”

Wisemon concluded, “I hold the government and IDF directly responsible for the mental health of the residents here. If furniture movers and selected journalists are allowed in, but not mental health professionals, I can only conclude that the government and IDF are deliberately preventing us from entering, because they don’t want anyone to identify, report and, most importantly, treat human rights abuses that may be taking place there.

For more information, please contact Carmi Wisemon MSW – 050-8740-638 / 02-999-6267 / 02-999-1553 or David Morris at 02 999 7107 david@lemaanachai.org