USAPMHN hotly debated on the American Psychological Association’s “Division 39” forum
On July 11, 2017, the launch of the USAPMHN was announced through an email posting on the internet forum of Division 39, the branch of the American Psychological Association devoted to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Over the next few days, there was in response a passionate email debate among members of Division 39. The Steering Committee of the USAPMNH wishes to thank all participants for their views, especially the authors of the many eloquent supportive comments that have been posted to date, emerging from a diverse group of national and international individuals– including many who are well-known activists for Palestinian rights.
There were many issues raised in the Division 39 email exchange, some typical of the responses raised in the USA by any mention of Palestinian rights. Some postings complained that the USAPMHN was not balanced, as evidenced by its failure to articulate a concern for the suffering of Israelis in parallel with the sufferings of Palestinians. Others claimed similarly that USAPMHN clinicians seem to take one side in a conflict in which there is blame on both sides; one posting objected that human rights in Saudi Arabia should be highlighted if Israel is to be criticized. There was considerable call for nuanced views and avoidance of terms such as “apartheid” which were perceived as hateful and experienced as shutting down discussion.
We wish to respond with clarification of our organizational position regarding some of these issues: As healthcare workers, we insist upon the importance of political neutrality in our dealings with our patients. We assert that our patients deserve respect and empathy for their beliefs—whatever their individual beliefs may be—and compassion for their suffering in all circumstances. This is part of our commitment as professionals.
At the same time, it is well within the professional domain of healthcare organizations to take a political stand on issues which have impact on the public wellbeing. One relevant example is the issue of torture, which has been condemned by organizations representing mental health and medical professionals. The question of torture is particularly pressing in Palestine, insofar as nearly one-third of all Palestinian men have been detained by Israeli forces and mistreatment of these detainees (to a degree constituting torture) is commonplace. Since almost every family in Palestine has one or more family members who have been detained, the physical and psychological impact of torture poses an enormous public health challenge. But for international healthcare workers to take an organizational stand against these and other horrors, workers need accurate information and unfettered debate. Israeli policy has been aimed at blocking information, suppressing debate, and discrediting accounts which raise questions about the official Israeli narrative. Indeed, it is alarming that some mental health organizations in the USA have effectively colluded with the state of Israel to forbid all mention of Palestine in their list-serve postings and publications.
It is our goal to counteract this aggressive news black-out, so that threats to public health in Palestine can be opened up for genuine investigation and redress. Further, maintaining our identity as professionals does not mean that we cease to be persons with political views and political agendas. We support the people of Palestine not because we are mental health workers but because we are human beings. We hope that our background in mental health provides us with specific skills and insights that can be brought to bear upon political realities and that can enhance humanitarian work within these realities.
It is obvious that many Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere experience suffering as a consequence of the downstream consequences of the very occupation that the state of Israel has imposed. This suffering deserves acknowledgment. But it is the human rights violations of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel that concern us. The demand to equate the suffering of Israelis to the suffering of Palestinians is generated by ignorance or by propaganda, and often by the interplay of both factors.
Clearly, wars and military occupation often inflict damage on civilian populations of all participants, despite the fact that one nation may be a powerful aggressor and the other a powerless victim. It does not diminish the suffering of the people on both sides to recognize that, in political and military terms, one state maintains the upper hand to brutalize, exploit, and abuse the other.
The USAPMHN does not pretend to lack a political agenda. It seeks to build community among mental health workers around views regarding Palestine which struggle to be expressed at all. Although we are happy to join in reasonable dialogue with anyone, it is not our aim to provide a welcoming forum for the equal expression of pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist opinion, nor to take special pains to assure that some pro-Zionist supporters might not have their feelings hurt by the use of words such as occupation, apartheid, oppression, fascism, racism, imperialism, or colonialism. It is clear enough that the world offers many appalling circumstances of human rights violations on every continent. We focus on Palestine.
We are not wedded to any particular technique, strategy, political party, group, or organization and do welcome open discussion from any quarter of these or related issues.
21 July 2017 The USAPMHN Steering Committee