On March 3, 2009, the University of Haifa was the site of a conference headlined, “Whose Place Is This? The Jewish-Arab conflict: Between Psychology and Politics.”
The fourth meeting in a series designed for activists and professionals by PsychoActive–Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, the conference was held under the aegis of the University’s Jewish-Arab Center with support from the Freidrich Ebert Foundation. This time around, the purpose was to explore the various connections between psychology and politics and the implications for people working in Jewish-Arab relations.
As reported by one of the organizers, “the conference addressed the question of ‘place,’ or ‘space,’ in its various facets. Perspectives grounded in clinical, research, and educational psychology were incorporated, and we broadened the discussion with additional perspectives from gender studies, philosophy and anthropology. We tried to understand the obstacles that block partnership in a given place. We discussed the emotional and social mechanisms that play a decisive role in nourishing and perpetuating the conflict. We examined the conditions that facilitate dialogue and the positive potential inherent in joint work between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians.
“About three hundred people attended – mostly Jewish and Arab professionals from Israel. There were also fifteen therapists from the West Bank. People from Gaza who inquired about attending were refused entry due to the closure being enforced on Gaza.
“Briefly, the program included:
“Lectures: Prof. Ramzi Suleiman shared insights from psychology and politics in speaking about the power relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel and about the attitude of the State to its Arab citizens. Hanni Biran addressed questions of ownership and belonging in theoretical contexts and in the Israeli reality. Dr. Maya Mucamel analyzed the role of women in perpetuating the national narrative memory. Lilian Abu-Tabich reported on a study highlighting the voices and experiences of Palestinian-Israeli women who must relocate after marriage to the village where their husband lives, thereby being victimized twice – once by the State of Israel’s land policies and once by a patriarchal Arab society.
“Experiential sessions: Moshe Alon spoke about a project conducted in a mixed Jewish-Arab high school by the Educational Psychology Services of the City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Khaled Abu Awad and Nir Auron, co-directors of the Israel-Palestine Bereaved Families Forum, talked very movingly about how they are able to transcend their personal loss and harness it for educational activities promoting dialogue and reconciliation in Israel and in Palestine. Sinai Patar, a director, talked about a play he presented at the Cameri Theater called ‘Return to Haifa,’ based on the Kanafani novella, and about the storm it aroused in Israel by putting on the public agenda the issue of the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.
“Toward the end of the day, participants divided into discussion groups that enabled them to share their responses to the earlier discussions and talk together about their experience of living in the shadow of this conflict.
“The conference was received with enthusiasm by those attending. People said it was instructive, enriching, and moving, and that it had opened new conceptual directions and given them food for thought. Many mentioned that, despite the complexity of the subject matter, the conference retained an atmosphere of dialogue that permitted a range of voices to be heard. The event made waves among mental health professionals and social scientists, and among peace activists and others interested in the conflict and its effect on their lives. Many participants noted that the conference successfully sustained the PsychoActive tradition of providing something worthwhile for people looking for a way to connect their work in psychology with political work and vice versa.
“Attached is the invitation to the conference, together with photos and a newspaper article in Arabic that reviewed the conference.”
Among the founders and principal activists in PsychoActive are graduates of the program entitled ‘Advocates for Change: Israelis and Palestinians in Dialogue and Action,’ made possible with the generous support of USAID and the American people in cooperation with the School for Peace at NSWAS and Hewar.
Tova Buksbaum, who organized this conference, wrote the report. She is a graduate of the 2006 “Change Agents” program funded by the USAID. Together with her were several participants who participate in the 2008 “Advocates for Change” program funded also by the USAID.