The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is deeply disturbed by the decision of the World Psychiatric Association – Transcultural Psychiatry Section (WPA-TPS)- to hold its 1st International Conference on Cultural Psychiatry in Mediterranean Countries in Israel in November 2012 [i].
We urge the WPA-TPS to uphold its commitment to ethical standards, dignity and human rights by relocating this conference to another country that does not embody injustice through maintaining a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid [ii], as Israel does. We also appeal to all members of WPA-TPS to refrain from participating in the conference if it is to be convened in Israel.
As professionals, you are acutely aware that Israel has flouted international law for several decades. Since the hegemonic world powers are actively complicit in enabling and perpetuating Israel’s colonial and oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue open to achieving justice and upholding international law is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international civil society to put pressure on Israel and its complicit institutions to end this oppression.
We wish to stress that conferences of this kind are being used politically as an Israeli public relations tool against the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. A mainstream Israeli news source reported recently that many international professionals are staying away from Israel for its violations of international law and out of their respect for the Palestinian boycott call [iii]. Your participation in and organization of this conference will work contrary to this, and be a direct rejection of Palestinian civil society’s act of nonviolent resistance to colonization and oppression.
More importantly, the Israeli medical establishment has consistently refused to shoulder its ethical responsibility to ensure that its institutions and members do not engage in serious violations of universal medical ethics, not to mention basic human rights, particularly Palestinians’ rights to life and freedom from torture and ill treatment. It is in this context that we expect your association not to lend its name to covering up these injustices–to do no harm, at the very least.
Many conveners of this conference are no doubt aware of the persistent calls to the Israeli medical establishment, and the Israeli Medical Association in particular (of which the Israeli Psychiatric Association is a member), to investigate evidence of the collusion of medical personnel, including physicians, in the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinians in detention centers, prisons, and other facilities supervised by the security forces.
In May 2009, 725 physicians and professors addressed an open letter to the World Medical Association (WMA) Council from 43 countries around the world, coordinated by Professor Alan Meyers of Boston University and Dr. Derek Summerfield of the University of London [iv]. The signatories protested the appointment of Dr. Yoram Blachar, the longstanding President of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), as President of the WMA, and called for his removal. In the words of the signatories, “under Dr Blachar’s leadership the IMA made a decision on political grounds years ago to turn a blind eye to torture in Israel and the institutionalised involvement of doctors.” Palestinian medical and health institutions supported this initiative and urged condemnation of the IMA.[v]
The context within which the challenge to the Israeli Medical Association was made, and which continues to be ignored by the IMA, is the WMA’s Declaration of Tokyo (1975) that specifies that « physicians shall not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures, and in all situations, including armed conflict and civil conflict ». The WMA Annual General Assembly of 2007 made it clear that inaction was not an option, stating that « this is the first time the WMA has explicitly obliged doctors to document cases of torture of which they become aware. The absence of documenting and denouncing such acts might be considered as a form of tolerance and of non-assistance to the victims. » [vi]
The authors of the letter also based themselves on a 1996 Amnesty International report concluding that Israeli doctors working with the security services « formed part of a system in which detainees are tortured, ill treated and humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice in conflict with medical ethics. » Later, Amnesty’s briefing to the UN Committee against Torture in September 2008 focused on Amnesty International’s continuing concerns about Israel’s failure to implement the Convention against Torture in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the intensification of measures amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. [vii]
The letter goes on to explain that a 2007 report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) gives a graphic demonstration of the extent to which Israeli doctors continue to form an integral and everyday part of the running of interrogation suites whose output is torture. In November 2008, PCATI filed a contempt of court motion to the High Court of Justice against the government of Israel and the General Security Service for their responsibility for a policy that grants a-priori permits to use torture in interrogations. The IMA has never challenged torture as state policy in Israel. [viii]
The letter points to a justification of the use of « moderate physical pressure » (condemned as torture by the UN Committee Against Torture) by the President of the IMA in the international medical journal The Lancet in 1997, concluding that “[t]his surely unprecedented action by the president of a national medical association has not been disowned…. In the age of evidence-based medicine his rejection of the documentary record has been unprofessional and frequently contemptuous.”[ix]
Israeli human rights organizations such as B`Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel have also warned of this collusion [x]. Most recently, a report in 2011 by PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel arrived at similar conclusions [xi]. It recommends, among other measures, that, “The Ministry of Health and the Israel Medical Association must resolutely and unequivocally announce to the public their opposition to torture and to the participation of medical personnel in torture. They must unequivocally condemn cases where doctors abandoned their ethical duties, whether through involvement in torture or ill-treatment or by any other means, and hold those doctors responsible for their actions.” [xii]
It is important to note that the response of the medical establishment in Israel to similar appeals in the past few years has been a resounding silence. This is nothing but persistent complicity.
Convening a conference sponsored by the IMA would, therefore, constitute a rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise thePalestinian BDS movement. Specifically, your conference would violate the Palestinian call for boycott by contravening clause 1 of the “PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel,” in which it calls for a boycott of academic events (such as conferences, symposia, workshops, book and museum exhibits) convened or co-sponsored by Israeli institutions:
All academic events, whether held in Israel or abroad, and convened or co-sponsored by Israeli academic institutions or their departments and institutes, deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds. These boycottable activities include panels and other activities sponsored or organized by Israeli academic bodies or associations at international conferences outside Israel. Importantly, they also include the convening in Israel of meetings of international bodies and associations. [xiii], emphasis added]
We are not asking you at this point to endorse the boycott of Israel, but simply not to cross our boycott picket line—not to undermine our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
We, therefore, call upon members of the WPA-TPS to press for the conference venue to be changed to another country. In the event that this request is not met, we urge a widespread boycott of this conference. No self-respecting professional body, and especially not one concerned with people’s dignity, human rights, and well being, should wish to enable a regime of apartheid.
About PACBI and the BDS movement
In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, PACBI issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel’s occupation and apartheid [xiv]. The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to the international academic community to, among other things, “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions” [xv].
Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [xvi]. The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights and international law standards as other nations. It is asking the international academic community to heed the boycott call, as it did in the struggle against South African apartheid, until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid. » [xvii]
[ii] In its most recent session in Cape Town, South Africa, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that, “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid”,
[x] B’tselem (1991). The Interrogation of Palestinians during the Intifada: Ill-treatment, « Moderate Physical Pressure » or Torture? www.btselem.org/download/199103_torture_eng.doc; Physicians for Human Rights–Israel (2008). Oversight and Transparency in the Israeli Penal System, July 2008. Tel Aviv, Israel
www.phr.org.il/default.asp?PageID=119&ItemID=213and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (2009), Accountability Denied: The Absence of Investigation and Punishment of Torture in Israel. Periodic Report December, 2009. www.stoptorture.org.il/files/Accountability_Denied_Eng.pdf
[xi] The report concludes:
Our experience on this matter is unequivocal: medical professionals are indeed among those working for the authorities who interact with prisoners and take part in what goes on in the prison system and the interrogation rooms. Medical professionals abandon their duty by failing to document and report torture; by passing on medical information to interrogators; returning interrogees to the custody of their interrogators when in danger of being exposed to further torture or ill-treatment; and in extreme cases, by taking an active part in the interrogation. Because of their unique social status, the presence of medical professionals in facilities where torture or ill-treatment are carried out indicates the boundary between the permissible and the impermissible; it grants ISA interrogators a stamp of approval, whether explicit or tacit, that their conduct is acceptable. Such behavior by doctors has far-reaching consequences for the victims of torture or ill-treatment: not only do medical professionals fail to serve as effective recourse for victim’s complaints of injuries inflicted upon them by their interrogators or other authorities; their conduct furthermore precludes the victim from presenting evidence which can aid in pursuing justice through various legal and administrative proceedings. (http://stoptorture.org.il/files/Doctoring%20the%20Evidence%20Abandoning%20the%20Victim_November2011.pdf)