Letter to IFSW from PUSWP

On 9th August 2022, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) published on its website an invitation from the Israeli Union of Social Workers (IUSW), calling for “the Palestinian Social Workers to join them in dialogue to explore how the two unions can communicate and work together advancing the profession in the region”. Its statement, avoiding all reference to settler colonialism, apartheid, the occupation etc, implies that at the heart of the conflict lies misunderstanding and a lack of ‘trust’ to be resolved by ‘dialogue’.

On 23rd August, the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists (PUSWP) sent a letter in response to this to the IFSW, and asked for this to also be published on the IFSW’s website. In this response, PUSWP set out their reasons for declining the Israeli Union’s invitation, and called on the IFSW and IUSW “instead to act and call for the end of the colonization, recognize Israel for what it is, and advocate for Palestinian rights including our right to self-determination and our right to return.”

In an extraordinary move, effectively boycotting PUSWP, the IFSW has refused to publish this letter
on their website. Palestinian social workers have therefore asked those acting in solidarity with them to share their letter as widely as possible. The UK-Palestine Mental Health Network is pleased to be able to contribute to this by copying the text of PUSWP’s letter below, and placing it on our website.

Please share this link widely among your networks and contacts.

We have previously reported the capitulation of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) to the pressure to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that targets Palestinian resistance to oppression. The UKPMHM deplores this latest example of professional associations silencing the views of Palestinian colleagues, in their collusion with settler colonialism and apartheid. 

Letter from PUSWP to the IFSW, issued Aug. 23, 2022

To: The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)

From: Palestinian Union of Social Workers & Psychologists (PUSWP)

Dear Colleagues, 

We Palestinian social workers believe that socio-political dispossession require social workers to defy it, and that social workers should place racialized others and the elimination of structural violence at the center of their practice. We believe that acting against domination, subordination and otherization, centering Palestinians own experienced and engendering resistance is crucial for a liberation social work practice. 

Based on our deep appreciation and gratitude to your ongoing efforts to advocate for the rights of social workers on an international level and particularly in Palestine we want to stress our disdain to the invitation by the Israeli Union of Social Workers (IUSW) calling for “dialogue” with the Palestinian Union of Social Workers & Psychologists which was published on your website on August 9, 2022. 

Nothing is more reprehensible, in our view, than the habit of Israeli social workers of avoiding over 70 years of their state’s violent racism and dispossession. Freire reminds us that concientization is especially important to the process of empowerment, for it signifies an awareness of oppression with all the psycho-social and political implications it carries. In Addition, Franz Fanon has contributed to our critical work by reminding us that the Israeli social work professionals should consider their role in the creation, perpetuation and consequences of racialized settler colonialism.

We strongly believe that advocating for union rights can’t be accomplished without effective communication, partnerships and networking, which we continue to take part in to this day. However, we do not believe that the relationship between the colonizer and those colonized should be framed within a context of dialogue for the following reasons: 

1. The IUSW is part of a bigger system of oppression that has debilitated and continued to dispossess our people for years, this imposes its discriminatory policies, ethnic cleansing and collective punishment on Palestinians, through changing laws confiscation of land and natural resources, displacing people and building an Apartheid regime, which is a war crime that we should all denounce and work together to end. This crime was highlighted and acknowledged in recent reports by leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization, Bt’selem,. The Israeli social workers are part of a system of colonisation one face of which is apartheid. It should be noted that the aforementioned human rights organizations are affiliated with the United Nations, international human rights organizations and some Israeli organizations 

2. The members of IUSW are complicit in the oppression of our people through serving in the Israeli army which is the “administrative body” of the occupation of Palestine, which is illegal under international law. This army is systematically violating Palestinian human rights through home demolitions, attempts to ethnically cleanse and forcibly transfer civilians in occupied territory (Masafer Yatta, Sheikh Jarah,etc) and field executions of Palestinians and the besiegingand bombarding of Gaza. We don’t see any connection with an Israeli soldier committing crimes against children and a social worker fighting for the rights of children. 

3. In 2018, during the general conference of the IFSW in Dublin, a statement was issued to condemn the silence of the IUSW towards the ongoing crimes in occupied Palestinian territory. This confirms our previous argument concerning the complicity of the IUSW members by serving in the army. Since then, what has changed?

We strongly believe that the bigger picture is what matters. This is the occupation and colonization practised by the Israeli regime against the Palestinians, whether those defined as citizens of the Israeli state, said by critical scholars to hold “settler-colonial citizenship”, Palestinians within areas colonized in 1967, or those living in exile as refugees and non-entities or Stateless persons awaiting return. While the members of the IUSW enjoy the privilege of freedoms of movement, speech, action, and expression; our members have to pass through checkpoints on a daily basis to reach their work, they may face political arrest, and our organizations may face criminalization, closure and end up being defined as terrorist entities. Any “dialogue” that denies the founding violence of the state, and its un-ending dispossession and any “dialogue” that refrains from declaring clearly a commitment to ending colonization and recognizing the Nakba and its impact on the Palestinian people in the past present and future will just add insult to injury. Dialogue requires an equal footing and a maintenance of symmetries of power, otherwise it will be another mode of systematic violence that deviate the attention of the international community from what is happening on the ground and will whitewash the crimes of the colonization regime.

More than 135 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces since the beginning of 2022. 15th August, a 21-year-old Palestinian (Mohammad Al Shiham) was killed in front of his family in the suburbs of the occupied city of Jerusalem. We call on the IFSW & the IUSW to reexamine this invitation and instead to act and call for the end of the colonization, recognize Israel for what it is, and advocate for Palestinian rights including our right to self-determination and our right to return. We are gathered by the values of humanity, dignity and mutual respect. Our work as Palestinian social workers is concerned with anti-racism, anti-Palestinianism, and anti-colonialism, as central themes that expose the relations between the social, economic, and political oppression and our community’s welfare. Hence, our interventions are oriented to engaging and helping the distressed, identifying forces of oppression operating in their lives, and developing strategies to promote livability against the settler colonial state’s necropolitics. The relation or Issues in the relationship between two sets of people, where one set are part of a regime that is oppressing the other, cannot be solved through “dialogue” before the steps mentioned above are taken. Once they have been taken, our doors are open to co-resist together for the rights of all workers. 

Sincerely Yours, 

Palestinian Union of Social Workers & Psychologists (PUSWP) 

General Secretariat – PUSWP

PDF version of the letter: