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Doctors question mental health group’s ability to provide ‘safe space’ in Israel

January 10, 2018 at 4:32 pm

An injured Palestinian can be seen receiving medical care at the Al-Najar hospital in Gaza on 20 October, 2013 [Khaled Khaled/Apaimages]

Mental health workers have described as “disconcerting” the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy’s refusal to consider calls to move its next conference away from Israel.

In response to a letter from the IARPP, a number of international psychiatrists and therapists stressed the need for “the inclusion, protection, and free expression of a diverse set of views” in the organsiation’s conference but found it “disconcerting” that the body had shut down all discussion of the controversy surrounding the original petition which protested the convening of the IARPP meeting in Israel.

The signatories highlighted that a “safe space in which attendees across the political spectrum can engage and exchange views” cannot be achieved inside Israel because:

movement restrictions, checkpoints, and the relentless targeting of Palestinians who articulate criticism of Israel make it very difficult for Palestinian colleagues to attend any conference in Israel.

Adding that the recent publication of the BDS Blacklist is further evidence of an “escalation in Israel’s attempt to silence criticism”, arguing that the ban will now prevent many international members of IARPP from attending this or any other conference.

The letter concludes by arguing that though the IARPP speaks the language of equal and balanced dialogue, “the forcible cleansing carried out by the state of Israel is being recapitulated in miniature at the 2019 IARPP conference” by shutting down debate within its membership and “stack[ing] the deck in favour of the official Israeli view at every level”.

Prominent figures from the US and Samah Jabr, Jerusalem-based psychiatrist and one of only 22 psychiatrists in the occupied West Bank, signed the open letter which is the latest in an exchange of communications between the IARPP and a number of its members.

Healthcare in Gaza: Is there any hope left?

The original letter called on the IARPP to consider “the grave crisis posed by the Israeli occupation and its currently escalating attacks on the Palestinian people.” Arguing that “as mental health workers familiar with the impact of violence on both individual health and collective well-being,” the signatories felt they had an additional responsibility to make their voices heard on the issue.

They argued that “it is particularly ironic and painful to see Israel chosen as the site of an international conference when the central theme of the particular organisation is the in-depth understanding of human relationships.”

Anyone interested in signing the petition to urge the IARPP to relocating its conference can do so here.