The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region of the People’s Health Movement (PHM) has issued an appeal to boycott the annual conference organized by the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP) scheduled to be held in Tel Aviv in June 2019. The statement opposes the decision of the IARPP Governing Council to hold the event in Israel and urges the international community to join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to protest the policies of the Israeli government towards the people of Palestine.
The appeal by the MENA region of the PHM is part of a global initiative by mental health professionals and activists who have termed participation in the upcoming conference as tacit acceptance of the racist and violent policies of the Israeli government. The statement reads “Conducting international conferences of professional relations in Israel, in our opinion, imply acceptance of the policies and behaviors of the Israeli occupation state, which extends the occupation and serves the political interests of Israel, distorting the world’s attention and accountability of the occupying state for its crimes and violations of human rights in Jerusalem, West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Calling the Israeli occupation “a fundamental impediment to the health of the Palestinian people, including their mental health”, the statement noted that the IARPP decision was an insult to the underlying principles of the People’s Health Charter and its commitment to social justice and psychological and health professional practices which are based on freedom, justice, dignity and human rights. “It is ironic and painful to see that the Israeli occupying state has been chosen to hold an international conference focusing on the in-depth study of human relations in regards to mental health, while placing an entire people under its military rule since 1967”, the statement says.
Over the past year, various organizations, such as the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists, Psychoactive- Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, the USA- and UK-Palestine Mental Health Network and the Jewish Center for Peace, have released statements and petitions addressed to the IARPP Board, urging its members to reconsider the location. Over 1,400 professionals and activists have voiced their support for the cause.
The initial appeal to the Board, referred to as the Reconsideration Call, was proposed by Dr. Samah Jabr, head of the Mental Health Unit of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, along with other colleagues. The appeal underlined the necessity of “demonstrating to the world that Israel must be held accountable for its behaviour. To object to the choice of Israel as the location of international conferences is a way of bringing the conduct of the state of Israel into the foreground as a subject of discussion and debate, so that the extent of the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinian people can be acknowledged.”
The Board responded by refusing to choose a different location, stating that it would be difficult to find an “ideal setting” that would suit everyone’s preferences and values. They further said that “we will be extending invitations to Palestinian colleagues, and we will work to enable their presence with us. Rather than foreclosing those issues and silencing conversation, we aim to create within our relational psychoanalytic conference an open and safe space in which attendees across the political spectrum can engage and exchange views.”
Not only does this statement reflect an unwillingness to acknowledge the specific circumstances in Israel, including the government’s policies of repression and violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it also reflects a certain superficial idea of providing a “safe space” for Palestinian delegates by failing to account for the restrictions placed on the their movement which will obstruct their chances of being equal participants in the conference.
The appeal launched by PHM-MENA has sought support from various activists, academics and medical professionals, given the refusal of the Board to reconsider its decision despite widespread opposition.
Israel’s occupation of Palestine has led to a massive health crisis, especially in Gaza where a blockade has caused a massive shortage of medicines. The crisis in health was especially highlighted during the Great March of Return of protests where many victims of indiscriminate Israeli firing were not able to receive proper medical attention. In August and September, US president Donald Trump scrapped funding worth millions of dollars for Palestinian refugees, affecting many health programs.