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Mideast Violence Takes Toll on Civilian Populations, Israeli, Palestinian Physicians Say - 2004-03-12

Two doctors from the Middle East, one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian, are touring cities in the United States in an effort to raise public awareness about the severe impact 3.5 years of violence has had on the health of both populations.

Israeli physician Zeev Wiener and Palestinian doctor Jumana Odeh say the continuing conflict in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is having a severe impact on the health of the populations.

During a tour sponsored by the group Physicians for Human Rights, the two doctors said the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation is taking an increasing toll on both sides.

They say the closures, restrictions and incursions by the Israeli Army have severely hurt health services to the Palestinians.

They point out Israelis killed or injured by suicide bombers are not the only victims of those attacks, because many people are experiencing high anxiety and other forms of emotional trauma when they see and hear news reports about the blasts.

In fact Dr. Wiener, a psychiatrist practicing in Tel Aviv, says many Israelis are suffering from what he calls "chronic traumatization" and are so overwhelmed they are disassociating themselves from the conflict.

He says Israeli television is broadcasting fewer horrific images from suicide bombings because many Israelis no longer want to see them.

"There is good news about the media and that is the media is broadcasting less and less terrifying pictures," he said. "But the bad news is they are doing that for the wrong reasons. Not because they realized it is bad for our health, but people are not interested anymore. People vote not to look at those pictures anymore because they are tired, they are sick of those pictures."

Dr. Odeh is a Palestinian pediatrician based in Jerusalem who is on the faculty of the Medical School and School of Public Health at Al-Quds University.

She also produces a local television show about children's health.

Dr. Odeh says virtually all young Palestinians have been affected by the violence.

She says in the Gaza Strip alone 83 percent of the children have personally witnessed shootings or explosions.

Dr. Odeh says most families simply want to live normal lives.

"I would dream of a day when Israeli kids would be able to go to their schools, safe, not being afraid of any bombing or any attacks against them," said Dr. Odeh. "At the same time I would dream of a day when Palestinian kids would be able to go to their schools with no checkpoints, no Israeli soldiers, nobody bothering them and go safely and live a normal life as all kids all over the world."

The two doctors point out that despite the enormous tensions created by the conflict, Israeli and Palestinian health professionals are communicating and cooperating with each other.

They say these efforts need to be supported and strengthened and can have implications for the achievement of peace.