Jabr and Berger correspondence with SPR

Dec. 20, 2015

Dear President and Officers of the Society for Psychotherapy Research:

As your respectful colleagues, we write to express our deep dismay that the Society has chosen to hold its 47th annual meeting in the occupied city of Jerusalem. We find this choice of cities particularly inappropriate for an organization which aims to relieve human suffering through scientific understanding, which boasts of an international membership, and which takes seriously the role of cultural context in the domain of the mind.

In the view of many people, the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem is an integral part of a massive and ongoing human rights catastrophe, documented by the United Nations and international peace advocates as well as by a sizeable number of scholars and activists who are themselves Jewish and/or Israeli. There is growing international recognition of Israel’s long-standing policy of ethnic cleansing and its outcome in the destruction of the economic, social, and cultural integrity of the Palestinian people. With this recognition has come a widening global resistance to endorsing through silence the status quo with regard to these immoral and illegal practices and an unwillingness to accept at face value the Israeli propaganda that attempts to justify them.

We observe in Israel a relentless campaign to suppress facts and genuine debate about facts relevant to health and to mental health. For example, there is meticulous documentation by Israeli peace-activists of pervasive torture of detained Palestinians practiced by the Israeli forces, including the torture of children; but among 900 such documented cases brought to Israeli courts by these activists, not a single case has progressed to an investigation. The psychotherapist Ilana Lakh has written of attempts in Israel to ban showings of a non-political film about the provision of trauma therapy to health providers in Gaza. We are appalled by the especial targeting of Palestinian academicians, human rights workers, and mental health care leaders in Israeli bombings and detention; we are witness to extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces of children in the streets. But outrage is growing: we draw your attention to a mental health workers pledge in support of Palestine signed by hundreds of our professional colleagues (https://ukpalmhn.com/mental-health-workers-pledge/).

In this context, the choice of Jerusalem for an international gathering dedicated to human flourishing seems grotesquely wrong. Most concretely, the choice of Jerusalem makes it impossible for many Palestinian scientists and clinicians to participate, because they are chronically denied entry by restrictions on residency and human movement. But equally damning, the choice of Jerusalem tacitly denies the reality of Israeli abuses and disavows the reality of the international movement to expose, document, and protest these abuses. The conference itself is planned to take place a short walking distance away from neighborhoods where Palestinians are currently being briskly dispossessed from their homes to make way for illegal Israeli settlements!

We urge you, as the leadership of SRP, to heed these painful realities, to tolerate second thoughts, and to open an informed discussion among the membership of SPR regarding the wisdom of holding the SPR conference in Israel as it is today. Join us to bring pressure on the Israel of today to transform itself into a place where there is full justice for all Jerusalemites—Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and all others—and a space for truly free debate. We will gladly join you there.

Yours truly,

Samah Jabr, MD, Psychiatrist, East Jerusalem

Elizabeth Berger MD, M. Phil.,Child Psychiatrist, New York

December 22, 2015


J. Christopher Perry, M.P.H., M.D.

Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry

Jewish General Hospital

4333 Chemin de la cote Ste-Catherine

Montreal, Quebec H3T 1E4, Canada


Samah Jabr, M.D., Psychiatrist, East Jerusalem

Elizabeth Berger M.D., M. Phil., Child Psychiatrist, New York

Dear Drs. Jabr and Berger:

I am responding to your letter of December 20, 2015, which I received by email, after consultation with the members of the Executive Committee of the Society for Psychotherapy Research. In the letter you express concerns that SPR is planning to hold its annual meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, this coming June, which you advised against. You also noted that Palestinian psychotherapists and psychotherapy researchers would not be permitted to attend the meeting. I have discussed these issues with the Executive Committee of SPR and with our local Host Committee, and offer the following in reply.

SPR is an international scientific organization that promotes the free exchange of research and ideas on how to improve psychotherapy. This is of concern to the health of the population in every country. As such we view this as a valuable opportunity for participants around the world at each annual meeting, which is held in different cities and regions. This rotation enables the participation of individuals in each region who might not otherwise attend a far away meeting to benefit from the exchange of ideas.

Having said that, we are pleased to meet for the first time in the middle east, in Jerusalem, and allow individuals in the region to participate. You raise an important issue regarding the potential for Palestinian colleagues to participate, which we highly encourage. The Host Committee would like to facilitate this. If you know of any Palestinian clinicians or researchers who would like to participate, have them contact Gary Diamond, Ph.D., gdiamond@bgu.ac.ilmailto:gdiamond@gmail.com, Chairman, SPR 2016 Host Committee, who will do everything he can to arrange visas and/or make other necessary arrangements so that they can attend the meeting.


J. Christopher Perry, M.P.H., M.D.

President, Society for Psychotherapy Research

Professor of Psychiatry

McGill University

Dear Dr. Perry:

Dr. Jabr and I wish to reply to your letter of December 22, 2015, which responds to our original letter objecting to the choice of Jerusalem, Israel for the upcoming annual meeting of the SPR.

Your letter–reflecting consultation with the Executive Committee of the SPR–kindly offers the assistance of the Chairman of the Host Committee to any Palestinian researcher or clinician who wishes help in arranging a visa or other travel arrangement. We acknowledge this as a genuine offer of help, extended in good faith, and appreciate this gracious gesture as far as it goes.

Unfortunately, in our view it does not go very far.

What we would wish to bring to your attention is the larger problem within which the visa issue is embedded. From our perspective, to offer help with a visa is an implicit endorsement of the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, an endorsement that Israelis possess the right to grant or to deprive Palestinian researchers from “visiting” their own homeland–in many cases the city in which they and their forbearers were born. The kind of help which we would like to see is help with the Israeli policy of displacement, detention, harassment, movement restriction, home demolition, and ethnic cleansing which afflicts every Palestinian, including clinicians and researchers. We welcome the good intentions of the Chairman of the Host Committee but would welcome more heartily the engagement of the Executive Committee of SPR in the more pressing issue of systematic human rights abuses perpetrated daily by Israel.

In addition, although your letter states that holding the conference in Jerusalem will “allow individuals in the region to participate,” we are at a loss to imagine who these individuals might be–surely not scientists or clinicians from regional Middle Eastern countries, since they are not welcome in Israel.

We ask once again that SPR consider the substantive issues for changing the site of its upcoming meeting from Jerusalem, insofar as holding a meeting in Jerusalem provides tacit endorsement of pervasive human rights abuses and other injurious Israeli policies.

Yours truly,

Elizabeth Berger MD and Samah Jabr MD

Dear Drs. Berger and Jabr:

Thank you for reading our response to your first letter. While your comments below elaborate on your initial concerns, my judgment is that our letter stands as SPR’s response.

Best Regards,

J.Christopher Perry, MPH, MD

J. Christopher Perry, M.P.H., M.D.

President, Society for Psychotherapy Research

Professor of Psychiatry

McGill University