The UKPMHN was established on an understanding that in Israel/Palestine mental distress was not simply an unfortunate accompaniment to political and military confrontation. In this particular struggle a central aim of the Occupation is to render an entire people insecure, demoralised and hopeless. This strategy is the logical expression of an ideology which sees the whole land as the rightful inheritance of a ‘Jewish Nation’, and its indigenous inhabitants as squatters and intruders. It is the logical strategy of a movement of settler colonialism.
As mental health workers, therefore, we feel a particular responsibility for bringing Palestinian professionals into face to face contact with our UK colleagues, to begin the difficult task of challenging the Israeli propaganda machine and a supine Western media that together frame the story as one of Israelis as the victims of Palestinian intransigence and violence.
There is a growing confrontation, at a worldwide level, between the defenders of Israel and Zionism, and a solidarity movement based on universal principles of equality and civil rights for all. Governments join the Zionist lobby to present Israel as an ordinary, Western democratic State, to hide the history of massacres, expulsions, land theft, military justice, imprisonment without trial, torture… the list could go on. Against this, and inspired by the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for us to see through that deception and take responsibility for the role our societies have played in their subjugation, an ever increasing number of organisations, professional bodies, trades unions, academic organisations, cultural bodies, companies and individuals have committed themselves not to participate in this camouflaging of the truth.
We think it is highly inappropriate for any organisation representing a mental health profession to flagrantly disregard the request made of us by the Palestinian people to simply not co-operate in their oppression. Yet the European Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapists made the decision to locate their 2015 Annual Conference in Jerusalem.
The degree to which this has involved collusion with racism and discrimination is clear from the literature produced to promote the Conference. EABCT online brochure has tried to lure participants with tours that at first included visiting illegal settlements, and drinking settlement produced wine! These were removed when it became clear that such candour might be counter-productive. But still – even while talking of the Conference as bringing ‘hope and compassion to people in conflict’ – the publicity talks up the warm weather and boasts of Israel as a new, modern multicultural nation, ignoring the progressive ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem itself, the families being evicted, others having their houses demolished, their children harassed on their way to school, extreme racists mobs contributing to an atmosphere of fear…
Last year the Mental Health Network issued a Statement in support of members of the British affiliate to the EABCT who had submitted a resolution condemning the choice of Israel as conference venue at their 2014 AGM. The resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority. The matter was then debated in depth on CBT online forums. Our Statement was distributed to all EABCT officials in time for its 2014 Conference in the Hague, adding some background to what became an acrimonious debate on the issue there. A group of senior UK Clinical Psychologists have published a letter in the December issue of the British Psychological Society’s journal Clinical Psychology Forum encouraging clinicians not to attend the planned European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies in Jerusalem in 2015.
We believe that the EABCT ought to reconsider its position, and move or cancel its 2015 Conference. Individual mental health professionals might reflect on the realities of the situation in Israel/Palestine, and consider whether attending this event is consistent with their ethical principles and humanitarian concerns.