Response to: “APS Statement on Israel-Palestine Crisis”
We are a group of Australian psychologists and mental health professionals of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, writing in response to the ‘APS Statement on the Israel-Palestine Crisis’ released on the 12th of October.
We acknowledge the sanctity of all human life and all those impacted by the events on October 7th, as well as those who have suffered a disproportionate amount since the onset of the conflict and those who continue to suffer.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is one of the peak bodies for psychologists in Australia, and as such is highly regarded as a reference point by community members seeking psychological support. The APS, therefore, holds a responsibility to ensure that it avoids a one-sided stance of disproportionate bias that can cause harm to communities. The APS’s statement is contradictory to the ethical standards they hold Australian psychologists to and is dismissive of the 75-year long ethnic cleansing and genocide of the indigenous Palestinians, creating concern and distress amongst psychologists, including APS member psychologists, and the broader communities they support.
The aforementioned statement has been the APS’s first statement on the matter despite the almost century long issue. In 1948, Israel invaded Palestine, forcing 75% of Palestinians out of their homes to become refugees including many Palestinian-Australians. Palestinians who remained were forced into the areas we now know as the “West Bank” and the “Gaza Strip” which were forced under Israeli military rule. Over the past 16 years, the Gazan population have been further subjected to an increasingly oppressive blockade, controlled borders, and military checkpoints, controlling movement in and out of Gaza. The blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza has been previously described as a ‘concentration camp’ by commentators. This is especially the case in light of the recent complete blockade imposed on Gaza, whereby Palestinians have been denied access to their basic human rights, such as food, water, electricity, fuel, medicine, communications and humanitarian aid. This is deemed as collective punishment and in blatant violation of humanitarian and international law . The APS statement ignores these historical facts and the myriad of war crimes committed by Israel which provide context to the current escalation in the region, thereby exhibiting selective bias and condemnation.
The people of Palestine are currently living through ongoing bombardment, with no access to clean water, food, electricity, medical supplies or humanitarian aid. The situation has been described by the United Nations (UN) as an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians on their ancestral land. Since October 7th, 2023, the civilian death toll is now over 9000, over 3,600 are children and over 2,000 are women. A further 22,000 Palestinian civilians have been severely injured by Israeli forces, over 1.4 million civilians have been permanently displaced, and over 4,000 illegally imprisoned. Refugee camps, hospitals and schools have also been targeted. Latest figures demonstrate that more children have been killed in the past three weeks in Gaza than in any armed conflict across the globe over the last three years. Despite the escalating collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population, the surging death toll especially of women and children, the growing breaches of humanitarian and international law, the APS has remained silent since their last media release.
The impact of the ongoing occupation and recent escalation has caused significant mental health issues for the Palestinian people. A recent 15-year longitudinal study concluded that, for Gazans, PTSD should be re-labelled Chronic Traumatic Stress Disorder (CTSD), in acknowledgement of the ongoing threat to their lives and sense of safety. Research has also found that approximately 41% of children living in Gaza suffer from PTSD and approximately 80% live with depression, grief and fear. In light of the existing dehumanisation of Palestinians narrative and ethnic cleansing by the Israeli occupation, we hold grave and urgent concerns about the immediate and long term physical and psychological impacts on the Palestinian people, as well as the potential vicarious trauma for individuals witnessing the events unfold from around the world. The inability to enforce a ceasefire, triggers the trauma experienced by our clients who have first hand experience of being subjected to war, silenced, unheard, disregarded and invalidated.
As psychologists we recognise that we are in a privileged position of trust and power and ensure we have unconditional positive regard for all peoples. It is expected that we engage in a manner that promotes equity and protection of people’s human, legal and moral rights regardless of age, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, or disability. Our ethical guidelines dictate that we must prevent our own biases and limits to objectivity from influencing a situation, act with integrity, and treat all people with dignity and respect. The APS statement fails to uphold its code of conduct.
It is noted that the APS recently endorsed a de-escalation of conflict and a ceasefire in the Ukraine. Also noted is that the APS has previously advocated for people facing persecution and oppression including refugee families, indigenous Australians, and those living with a disability. The APS has also released statements on political matters vocalising their concerns for the violation of human rights and its impact on the immediate and long-term psychological wellbeing of individuals and communities. However, despite constant violations of humanitarian and international law by Israel which are regularly reported by the UN and Amnesty International, the APS have always taken a silent stance on this matter.
While the APS urged struggling Australians to reach out for mental health support, their failure to acknowledge and validate the plight of the Palestianians risks the further marginalisation of some of the most vulnerable communities in Australia from seeking psychological help.
As a peak professional psychologist body in multicultural Australia, the APS has a responsibility to position itself as a balanced and firm voice supporting indigenous populations globally and stand against genocide and militarised occupation. We encourage the APS to ensure that their future statements provide a fair and balanced representation of events to avoid psychological distress to the psychologists they represent and the communities in which they serve. Additionally, we ask the APS to develop and offer trauma support and training programs to help psychologists better understand and address these trauma-related issues in their clients and within themselves. We ask them to promote diversity and inclusion within the profession by offering resources and programs that address cultural competence and inclusive practices.
We implore the APS to join collectively raised voices locally and globally in calling for an immediate ceasefire and the immediate facilitation of emergency humanitarian aid into Gaza.
We strongly urge individuals and organisations to sign and circulate this important petition in response response to the ‘APS Statement on the Israel-Palèstine Crisis’ released on the 12th of October. You can access and sign here: https://www.change.org/p/australian-mental-health-professionals-stand-in-solidarity-with-palestine