Palestine is a mental health issue

The American Psychiatric Association wrote a statement that stands unequivocally with Israel, and thus fails to meet several principles that uphold the mental health sector including respect for human rights and dignity.
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several people walk amongst the rubble of a bombed neighbourhood in Gaza
Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Israel continued to battle Hamas fighters on October 10 and massed tens of thousands of troops and heavy armour around the Gaza Strip after vowing a massive blow over the Palestinian militants' surprise attack. Photo by Naaman Omar apaimages/wikimedia commons

CPT has nurtured a global community to counter violence and oppression where peacemakers from all corners of the world have strode together, arm in arm, toward collective liberation, resisting powers that seek to kill and destroy. We thrive when we support one another and we turn our faces together toward freedom. Community care is central to who we are. Mental health care is central to our care model, especially for those witnessing, hearing, and experiencing stories of violence and oppression first-hand. Now more than ever, our teams need safe spaces where they can talk openly about their experiences. When organizations like the American Psychiatric Association (APA) issue statements that do not fully acknowledge the experience of oppression, these safe spaces become jeopardized. Our CPT Palestine Coordinator, Mona el-Zuhairi, discusses this impact in the following article:

In the last week, Israel started the war against Gaza after Hamas attacks, under the auspice of self-defence, ignoring the fact that they have been besieging Gaza for 17 years, controlling movement, food, water, electricity, and almost the air they breathe.

Most statements published by organizations, churches, and leaders have condemned Hamas, mourned the Israeli lives, and given Israel the right to defend itself. But by condemning Hamas without recognizing the systematic occupation that Israel has subjected Palestinians to for decades, one creates a hierarchy of morality and grants Israel the right to kill. Creating these categories that dehumanize Hamas and Palestinian—largely nonviolent—resistance while simultaneously giving Israelis a classification of ‘civility’ is a well-known tool for genocide. This is not new, all genocides were built on the superiority of a race. 

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), for example, issued a statement on 11 October 2023 stating that the “Association condemns the recent terrorist attacks in Israel.” Alongside this condemnation, they also stated that “Antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and hatred are unacceptable, and we stand with the Jewish people, now and as always.”

As of 24 October 2023, the death toll in Gaza is 5300 dead, including over 2000 children. According to the news, the death rate increases by the minute, with 18 days of consecutive bombardments that have killed civilians, the houses that had once been full turned to ashes, and yet there is no condemnation statement from APA about the killing of Palestinians!  

The question is, why? It is not a one-line answer, it is a history of racism and bias despite their five principles in their Code of Ethics:

  1. Principle A: Beneficence and Non-Maleficence
  2. Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility
  3. Principle C: Integrity
  4. Principle D: Justice
  5. Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity

The APA violates their own codes. Their statement ignores the fact that people in Gaza have been under blockade for 17 years now. They fail to name, and thus exacerbate, the inter-generational trauma that thousands of Palestinian families live with as a result of 75 years of occupation. They fail to recognize how the deprivation of food, water, and electricity is a tragic violation of human rights.

The APA was founded by white men, who are most likely settlers themselves, carriers of white genes who look down on people of colour. In 1904, G.Stanely Hall, the founder of APA and a pioneer in adolescents studies, published the following in his advancement of the idea that people of colour, “Africans, Indians, and Chinese, were members of ‘adolescent races’ in a stage of ‘incomplete growth.’” The fact that between 1900 and 1925, the majority of psychology studies focused on race hierarchy, and many psychologists were involved in practices of eugenics proves that psychology is built on racism, one of the main pillars of oppression.

Furthermore, the APA failed to apply the main principle of “Do No Harm” in the mental health domain by playing a part in advocating for genocide in Gaza with such a discriminatory and polarized statement. The APA failed to uphold the principle of justice where “Mental Health is a Human Right,” proving that the APA is so steeped in racism that they cannot see thousands of civilians being bombed, whose only mistake is that they have dark skin.


A previous version of this article was published on 17 October 2023 by Jerusalem 24

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