Rivlin in Beersheva
Rivlin in BeershevaMark Neyman/GPO

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin today visited Beersheva. During his visit, he was awarded honorary citizenship of the city by its mayor, Ruvik Danilovich. The president then visited the mental health center in the city and met with mental health professionals from the south. The meeting focused on mental health provision, for which there has been a rise in demand since Operation Guardians of the Walls.

The president was accompanied on his visit by director-general of the ministry of health, Prof. Hezi Levy and head of the Beersheva mental health center Prof. Ze’ev Kaplan. Chair of the Israeli Psychiatric Association Dr. Zvi Fishel, head of the psychiatry department at Barzilai Medical Center Dr Daniela Amital, head of the pediatric psychiatry clinic at Barzilai Yelena Bakhtinsky and the chairman of Otzma, the National Forum for Families of the Mentally Ill, retired judge Rivi Tzuk, also participated in the meeting.

Until a week ago, the air-raid sirens were wailing in the south of the country and up to the center, and the missiles were howling. This hospital, like the whole mental health system, is a safe space not just during wars or battles. This is the safe space for those with mental health issues of all ages, from all parts of society, every day, all year,” said the president, noting that the last year, with the coronavirus pandemic, has been difficult for everyone and especially so for children and young people. “When it seemed that we were getting back to normal, we found ourselves in Operation Guardians of the Walls, facing incessant fire from Hamas on the communities of the south and around Gaza. That barrage made existing mental health issues worse. New issues emerged. Mental health crosses all communities and parts of society. We must not neglect it. We must not be ashamed and we must treat it.”

The president spoke about the long waiting times to receive mental health treatment in the south, saying, “It is inconceivable that children and young people from the south with mental health issues, because of living under security threats for two decades and because of the coronavirus pandemic, should have to wait for between eight months and two years to be seen. It is inconceivable that there should be gaps between mental health provision in the south and in the center of the country. That is a failing grade for us all. There should be no difference in the provision. Every person in Israel deserves appropriate mental health provision, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status. It is inconceivable that mental health issues are becoming greater, that demand for help is rising and that provision is falling. “We must strengthen the mental health system immediately. Allow those who help to help. To support those who support,” he said, thanking the mental health professionals for their devoted and important work.

Director-general of the ministry of health Prof. Hezi Levi: “I would like to thank the president for his visit to strengthen the mental health system in the south, which we have needed so much in the last few days, and over recent years because of the difficulties faced by residents of the south and the Negev in the conflict with Gaza. The president heard and offered his support to those working, and we are all committed to closing the gaps in outlying areas, particularly in the Negev. We must prioritize treatment in all fields, and of course in mental health in the south. Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to all the professionals and therapists.”

Earlier in the day, the president was presented with honorary citizenship of Beersheva by Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, who thanked the president for his warm embrace of the city and its people over his term of office. “I would like to thank the president, personally and on behalf of all of the people of Beersheva, for his many years of support for the city and the Negev. The warm relationship, the assistance, the support and the partnership of the President of the State began even when he was a Knesset Member and then Speaker of the Knesset, and during his presidency. Mr. President, you are a true friend and partner. Awarding you honorary citizenship is the least we could do to acknowledge your work and your great contribution.”

The president thanked the mayor and said that Beersheva was an example of making Zionism into reality in the Negev, and that he would always have a warm and loving place in his heart for the city.