The following letter supports the decision of the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation not to hold its 2021 conference in Israel.
Dear Members of the Executive Board of ENMESH:
Once again, the Palestine Global Mental Health Network respectfully requests that you reconsider locating your 2021 international meeting in Israel.
This request has a history: in June 2019, ENMESH first announced that its 2021 meeting was planned to take place in Israel. A few weeks later, however, the ENMESH Executive Board decided not to meet in Israel—a decision described as a “practical” choice to avoid controversy rather than a choice based on moral values. We then sent a public letter to ENMESH in July 2019 applauding the ENMESH decision not to meet in Israel and encouraging ENMESH to base this decision on an ethical position on human rights as well (see PGMHN letter).
There was a prompt firestorm of political outrage during the summer of 2019 aimed to force ENMESH to meet in Israel after all (see Middle East Monitor Report).
Now it appears that ENMESH has bowed to this political pressure, posting the agenda for its 2021 meeting in Israel featuring themes of trauma and multiculturalism.
We continue to request that ENMESH reconsider meeting in Israel.
Our objections are based in the centrality of human rights to our professionalism as mental health researchers and clinicians, based in our oath, “First, do no harm.” The Israeli violations of fundamental human rights, abuse, and assaults on ordinary human decency are longstanding, severe, and well-documented by organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Holding and attending conferences in Israel, be it virtually or in person, is equal to endorsing colonial and settler-colonial occupation and rewarding academicians and researchers who are silent witnesses to a fascist regime (see PGMHN letter).
In this context, a meeting in Israel to discuss “trauma” and “multiculturalism” is deeply ironic.
For all of these reasons, thousands of international colleagues in mental health have already petitioned to request that professional conferences, originally planned to be held in Israel, be located elsewhere; these colleagues are joined by an enormous global movement supporting human rights for the Palestinian people through non-violent protest.
Our ultimate goal is to ensure freedom, justice and dignity for all of humanity.
Steering Committee, Palestine-Global Mental Health Network
Steering Committee, USA-Palestine Mental Health Network
Steering Group, UK-Palestine Mental Health Network
Steering Committee, France-Palestine Mental Health Network
To the Members of the Executive Board of the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation (ENMESH):
We, the undersigned, belong to organizations that have hundreds of members, most of whom are mental health professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and those in allied disciplines such as public health. Many of us are published researchers, award-winning professionals and renowned in our field.
We are writing to express our support for the decision of ENMESH to hold its 2021 conference outside of the state of Israel. We understand that this was a “practical decision, not a political or permanent decision,” as mentioned on your website. We also understand that you took the decision because you felt that ENMESH did not have “adequate resources to handle the type of campaign to which some conferences held in Israel are subject.”
Surely, international conferences held in Israel might have to face to campaigns to dissuade people from participating and this might create additional work and effort.
However, we would argue that your decision is wise not only on practical grounds but more importantly on ethical ones. Your decision underscores the significance of the mental health professions ethic of “do no harm.” Holding a conference in Israel indirectly supports a government whose abuse and oppression of the Palestinian people has been going on for over 70 years.
Please allow us to explain: The Israeli government continues to engage in human rights violations and violations of international law (see UN report); ethnic cleansing has not abated (see map of ethnic cleansing; houses are bulldozed daily even though the owners have not been found guilty of a crime (see example from Haaretz newspaper); every night the Israeli Occupation Force raids the homes of Palestinians to terrorize the population and crush their spirit (listen to IDF soldiers or this); electricity, food, and water are rationed (see report from The Guardian on limiting calorie input in Gaza, half of its population are children).
Gaza is the largest open-air prison on earth. The siege of Gaza has been maintained for years. Parents find every way possible to send their children to safety elsewhere, knowing that they may never see them again. The people of Gaza’s peaceful attempt to express their desire for liberation in what was known as the “Great March of Return” was met with violence and killing. (See https://www.ochaopt.org/content/gaza-health-sector-still-struggling-cope-great-march-return-injuries. Please also see http://www.emro.who.int/images/stories/palestine/documents/SitRep_June_2019_.pdf?ua=1).
We share the view of ENMESH that protesting the actions of the Israeli government does not target all individuals who are citizens of Israel. Moreover, we share the hope that the need for protests is temporary and that the state of Israel will soon desist from its 70-year pattern of land confiscation, home demolition, arrest, imprisonment, and torture of children, extrajudicial assassination, shooting peaceful demonstrators, mass detention without trial, and restriction of movement—as well as granting full citizenship to all of its residents. Meanwhile, we encourage the members of the Executive Board to stand firm by its decision regarding holding its 2021 conference elsewhere, not only to avoid controversy but to embrace human rights as an inviolate element of health, and to stand up for those rights in the name of mental health, public health, and human decency.
We welcome conversation with you going forward,
With respectful regards,
Palestine-Global Mental Health Network, Steering Committee
USA-Palestine Mental Health Network, Steering Committee
UK-Palestine Mental Health Network, Steering Group