By Elizabeth Berger, Rebecca Fadil, Samah Jabr and Christine Schmidt
The recent massacres in Gaza have only reinforced the legacy of the Nakba as an ongoing arc of atrocities rather than a single event of 70 years past, isolated in time. To resist the Nakba as a historical and current reality is thus a staggering challenge to us as mental health clinicians and as human beings. Nonetheless, we like to believe that our professional tool-kit prepares us especially for this work to some degree, as students of motivation who place a premium on truthful realities; and more, as healthcare professionals pledged to advocate for public well-being and to attempt to speak on behalf of the victimized, the silenced, and the oppressed.
Although this mission is steeply uphill with regard to Palestine, we see the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) issued by Palestinian civil society as offering powerful non-violent routes of resistance now gathering increasing international interest and commitment. We report here on protest action which was recently undertaken in parallel with the BDS movement working toward the same goals.
In December 2017, the Board of the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP) revealed its plan to locate its 2019 annual meeting in Israel. We, the undersigned, sent an email letter to the Board requesting that it reconsider this choice of location, citing Israel’s policies of human rights violations and the extreme difficulty faced by Palestinian clinicians in even attending such a meeting. The Board promptly refused, claiming that our request was “silencing conversation.” We then enlisted help from the UK-Palestine Mental Health Network and from the Jewish Voice for Peace to re-issue our letter as a petition which now has been signed (as of April 2018) by over 1,300 mental health professionals worldwide.
Far from closing debate however, the protest action very clearly opened the door to vigorous debate both within the IARPP membership and in many places elsewhere. The protest action was subject of many supportive statements such as those issued by the UK-Palestine Mental Health Network’s Steering Group and published by Alice Rothchild MD of the Jewish Voice for Peace–Health Advisory Council. Importantly, 24 Palestinian mental health professionals who are citizens of Israel crafted a separate Statement in support of the protest petition and 34 mental health professionals who are members of the Israeli human rights organization Psychoactive (eleven of whom are also members of IARPP) also issued a separate Statement in support of the protest petition. At times, the group processes that led to these statements were very painful. In some instances, those supporting the protest were subject to intimidation by those defending the Israeli official position and threats were issued to silence voices of resistance, calling for considerable bravery on the part of those who spoke up.
We have been gratified to see that the protest has gathered not only signatures but also many volunteers eager to organize their own communities in coordinated action. The petition and other documents and letters have been translated into several languages and groups of mental health workers in other countries have expressed interest in forming their own local Networks in support of Palestine.
In addition, considerable focus has been aimed at the 2018 international conference which IARPP is holding in New York City, stimulating a spectrum of protesting responses. Some participants in scheduled panels have chosen to withdraw their participation; one entire panel is thus not taking place. Other IARPP members have written letters to IARPP explaining their withdrawal from the organization altogether. Others however are presenting papers in support of Palestine at the New York meeting.
The undersigned have arranged for a three-hour alternative forum entitled “Voices on Palestine,” a session by and for mental health workers sympathetic to Palestine. Our forum will be held at mid-day in a conference room within the same hotel as the IARPP meeting and has been scheduled to avoid conflict with any IARPP speaker. We invite all interested mental health workers to join us. The Board and the membership of IARPP have been invited to attend as well, with the hope of expanding a genuine interaction with them.
We can conclude, therefore, that protest initiatives of a professional nature do not silence dialogue, as has often been argued in criticism of cultural and academic boycotts. Protest initiatives silence no one. The process and the goal of such protest actions, on the contrary, bring to the surface in creative ways latent disagreements so that they can be discussed openly. Although no one can speak for the silenced except the silenced themselves, we observe that protest actions can widen the debate among all parties and deepen engagement internationally. Resistance is thus itself a vigorous mode of conversation, making it harder for the voices which have been silenced to remain forever unheard.
Dr. Berger is a New York-based child psychiatrist who has been working with clinicians in Palestine for many years developing training programs in mental health, consulting on policy planning, and writing articles and book chapters on well-being in Palestine for both the academic and popular press. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the USA-Palestine Mental Health Network.
Rebecca Fadil, LCSW, attended Tel Aviv University during the Oslo years and ended up working for a small village on the green line. Fadil has worked at the Karen Horney Clinic, The Arab American Center in Brooklyn, and the Council on Foreign Relations as special assistant to the Director of the US/Middle East Project. Fadil is involved with the Palestine Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Kairos USA, The Tree of Life, and co-founder with Liz and Christine, of the USA Palestine Mental Health Network. With family and friends living in the diaspora, and on both sides of the green line, the consequences of the Nakba have of course become deeply personal for her. Fadil is a psychotherapist in private practice and splits her time living between Washington DC and Charlottesville, Virginia.
Dr. Jabr is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist based in East Jerusalem who has been a thought-leader within the field of mental health in Palestine, serving as consultant to many international agencies and teaching within the faculties of several medical schools. She is well known internationally as a prolific author and speaker on human rights in Palestine.
Christine Schmidt LCSW, CGP is a psychotherapist in private practice in Brooklyn, New York, a mediator, and an educational consultant. She has published about the psychological dynamics racism with particular focus on the impact of whiteness. She is on the Steering Committee of the USA-Palestine Mental Health Network.