The occupation of Palestine has fallen into universal oblivion. In the face of this void, however, there are still Palestinians who attempt to affirm their selfhood through challenging the occupation creatively; by refusing, for example, to submit to it with either helplessness or nihilism. Personally, I found an occasion to affirm support for Palestinian human rights and liberation in response to the decision of the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP) to hold its 2019 annual conference in Israel; I was among those who drafted the original letter to the IARPP leadership, calling for them to reconsider the location of the conference.
IARPP responded by refusing to reconsider the decision: “If we chose our conference locations by judging the political decisions of national governments, we might well have a hard time finding an ideal setting that would fit everyone’s preferences and values.“ This reply, by treating Israel like any other controversial government, ignores the impact of the occupation on the possible participation in the conference itself by Palestinians and others. Placing the convenience of the conference for Israeli participants over the rights of clinicians elsewhere to have fair access to it, the organisers went on to state, “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.” Apparently, the dirty work of sending colleagues who are critical of the Israeli government to airport detention centres and refusing them entry to Israel is delegated to the Israeli security forces, who in this way deny to international IARPP members the opportunity to attend the conference if they are activists within a long list of non-violent organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace or the American Friends Service Committee. What kind of “safe space” can thus be achieved for the exchange of diverse views at this conference can only be imagined.
This disingenuous invitation purports to display the IARPP’s inclusiveness and deny culpability for its subtle support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The invitation also assumes the superiority of Israeli colleagues who inhabit the powerful position to “extend an invitation” to denizens of an oppressed territory. The promise of the IARPP leadership in Israel to “work to enable their presence” implies that the Israeli leadership is most generous and humane, and that Palestinians who might refuse this gracious offer simply lack gratitude. In various communications, the IARPP leadership took ownership of the virtuous language of “dialogue,” the “third” and “empathy” while asserting that Palestinians who decline their kind invitation might be indulging in the reprehensible language of “splitting,” “non-inclusiveness” or “acting out”.
It is likely that some Palestinians will accept the Israelis’ invitation, grateful for a conference hotel with close access to the Mediterranean Sea and tasty catering; they are likely to be the “good Palestinians” who accept Israeli mental health colleagues as their “professors” and do not challenge any of their reflections.
Meanwhile, to inflate the apparent Palestinian presence at gatherings of mental health clinicians, I note that the Israelis have invited pharmacists and dentists to what are professional meetings. It is more than likely that many Palestinian participants at the IARPP conference will be so impressed with the theory and jargon of relational psychology floating above their heads that they will not dare to introduce to such a group their reflections on genuinely lived Palestinian experience. We might even see the appointment of a suitably subservient Palestinian chaperone to manage the potential outbreak of genuine Palestinian discourse and to guarantee that domesticated Palestinian participants mistrust their own experience and feel ashamed of it. A nod to alleged Palestinian topics such as the problem of “Palestinians tortured by other Palestinians” or “the oppression of women under Palestinian patriarchy” might be anticipated at such an event, leaving little room to discuss or to analyse the widespread torture of Palestinians by Israelis and their overall oppression of Palestinians under occupation.
While ensuring the docility of Palestinians, the Israelis remain intimidated by critical voices among Jewish Israeli citizens and, indeed, Jews from overseas. This is yet another tactic used to silence opposition to the occupation.
Through such techniques, the Israeli pretence of dialogue remains, in fact, a monologue. The permitted voice is the mainstream Israeli view, which at most criticises the official government view of its excesses while fundamentally endorsing the status quo. The “Other” within this masquerade is intimidated and insecure; its only permitted role is to approve the Israeli narrative with a dumb nod of the head. To fail to approve the Israeli narrative is to be the subject of spying, distorted misrepresentation and the incitement of right-wing crowds to serve as an example of the feared consequences of speaking out. In this way, others are intimidated into silence as well.
“In a narrow sense, we are not a political organisation,” claims the IARPP leadership, giving them the luxury of distancing their psychological experience from the occupation while at the same time consuming the privileges of the occupation. For Palestinians, there is no such luxury; the occupation that deprives us of our loved ones, spies on our private relationships, strips our clothes from us , steals years from our lives, deprives us of our health and confronts us with continuous grief and humiliation, this is in every sense very personal and very psychological. Only those who side with the powerful are keen to ignore the dialectical relationship between the psychological and political.
The IARPP is losing a unique opportunity to respond to the voices that ask for a genuinely safe space for Palestinians and their supporters. We have had enough Israeli monologues with Palestinian “Others” who are merely decorative objects or sad examples of outright dishonesty. We need conditions in which Palestinians can bring their full authentic selves and share their true reflections. Only then can trust be established; only then can our real relationships and motivations be understood. In that safe space, we can all contribute meaningfully to political and psychological transformation that will bring a mutual emancipation and humanisation for both Israelis and Palestinians.