How To Sneak Propaganda Into An Academic Psychology Article
I did not expect to find propaganda in the respected Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma; therefore, it was with great curiousity that I began to read an article describing a peer group supervision programme for mental health professionals working with traumatized adolescents in the Palestinian Authority (PA). The article’s title, itself:
Case Study Quasi-Qualitative Analysis of Peer Group Supervision of a Child Trauma Recovery Program in Occupied Palestine
tells the reader that there is going to be a dose of politics mixed in with the psychology, and hints at the fact that the politics will be weighted against Israel.
“Palestinian Authority” vs “Occupied Palestine” vs “Occupied Palestinian Territories”
The authors could have chosen to refer to the “Palestinian Authority” (PA) in the title. After all, that is the official name of the region under study. The UN refers in most of their documents to “Occupied Palestinian Territories” and I think that the authors calling the region “Occupied Palestine” is even going a step further than the UN takes things. “Occupied Palestine” seems to imply that there was once a state called “Palestine”; “Occupied Palestinian Territories”, on the other hand, correctly implies that the final political determination of the region is yet to be decided.
Of course, if I want to ascribe really devious motivations to the UN (and why would I want to do such a thing, eh?), I could suggest that the UN perhaps believes that, were they to call the PA “Occupied Palestine”, it could give the impression that they regard the land now under the PA control as the only land claimed for the future State of Palestine, rather than “from the river to the sea”. Why create such an artificial limitation for the area Arabs will want to claim for themselves? In fact, the authors of the article under examination here, declared in previous psychology paper that “the occupation has been in place since 1948”.
Anyway, let’s get back to the article.
Making Sure You Knew “Palestine” is Occupied
Just in case it was not clear, the authors felt it necessary to repeat the word, occupation, 13 times within the nine pages of their article (not including the list of references). Occupation on its own occurred twice, “violent military occupation” or just “military occupation” was mentioned six times, and “occupied Palestine” five times (excluding the title). “Palestine” on its own was used eight times and the word, occupation, followed a few words later in one instance. ”Palestinian Authority” was mentioned only twice, both times in association with the Ministry of Education.
And what was the stated purpose of this article on “Occupied Palestine”? It was two-pronged:
- To fill in the gap in understanding regarding the effect of “delivering a trauma recovery program in a situation of violent military occupation”; and
- To assess the potential for peer group supervision to encourage counselors to train their peers in the trauma recovery tool (TRT).
Regarding the purely professional aspects of the discussion, I found three points regarding cultural issues among the Palestinian Arabs interesting:
- development of trust in the peer group supervision context against a background of general lack of trust and inability to be open in their society attributed, by the authors, to the presence of informants (on behalf of the Israelis? on behalf of the Palestinian security forces?), infiltrating even professional environments;
- the challenge to cultural gender norms re behaviours of women when in the presence of men as the peer group supervision sessions were attended by men and women; and
- the counselors introduced prayer into their sessions, a spiritual aspect not applied in other countries using TRT.
Effect of “The Occupation” On Performance of Their Jobs
The participants in this study were drawn from towns along the security barrier erected between the PA and Israel in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The rationale for studying counselors in this region rested upon the claim that this area suffers “high levels of military violence”. In fact, three potential participants never made it to the sessions because of:
. . . increased settler violence, excessive work demands, school closure and nonpayment of salary.
The only point here of relevance to “the violent military occupation” is “increased settler violence”. What does this mean? What, in fact, did the settlers do, where did they do it, and how did that prevent three professionals from attending the initial research interview which would have been their entrance card into the peer group supervision programme? There is not even a link to a newspaper article that would substantiate this claim. The reader is supposed to take it for granted that this statement is a true reflection of what happens on the ground.
I hope that nobody would attribute “excessive work demands” to “the occupation”. I have the feeling that work overload is something experienced by teachers around the world. The issues of school closure and nonpayment of salaries will be discussed below.
The authors made the following statement in their conclusions section of the article:
A particular benefit to counselors in Palestine was having supervision available locally. This appears to have avoided many of the problems of travel, such as the need for permits and the risk of checkpoints suddenly closing, resulting in the cancelation of meetings. Likewise, as salaries are regularly unpaid (Barron and Abdallah 2014), local supervision avoided the added pressure of travel costs.
And just in case you did not get it, the authors repeat several paragraphs later:
Some of the reported barriers of PGS [peer group supervision] were, however, unique to the context of military occupation. These barriers were numerous including unpaid salaries resulting in school strikes and closures; no funds for other formative or restorative activities; military incursions stopping or interrupting sessions; and spontaneous unpredictable road blocks requiring plans for meetings to be changed. Despite these barriers, PGS appears to have been sufficiently valued by counselors to sustain participation. [emphasis added]
Let us look at these points:
- It is always better to have supervision available locally than to require supervisees to travel long distances and over borders or to have to conduct Skype sessions for the supervision that should be a natural part of every counselor’s professional routine. This is a difficulty in common with isolated rural communities in many places, such as the vast United States, for example. It would similarly be relevant for many locations around the world where there are few professionals trained in particular modalities promoted by a given research group. It cannot, therefore, be considered to be a side-effect of “the occupation”.
- Lack of salary payments. This is undeniably a problem in the PA. Reuters reported on a school strike last year initiated by teachers for this very reason. However, Israel cannot be blamed for the low salaries the PA offers its teachers as the PA is the administration responsible for education. Israel cannot be blamed for the fact that the PA does not pay its teachers on time or for long months because Israel is not responsible for the PA budget. If the PA wants to ensure that its teachers work, then perhaps some of its leaders, beginning with President Mahmoud Abbas, could donate some of the funds they steal from international humanitarian aid and put it toward teachers’ salaries. I bet they wouldn’t even feel the pinch!
- Military incursions stopping or interrupting sessions. The authors do not indicate whether these military incursions are committed on the part of the Israeli army (IDF) or Palestinian security forces. For example, during the teachers’ strike, the Reuters article reported that it was the Palestinian security forces that set up check-points and arrested teachers. However, the authors clearly give the impression that they are talking about IDF actions alone, i.e., the “occupation army”.
- The IDF conducts military incursions where there is the suspicion of weapons caches or weapon producing workshops – the army does not enter PA villages on a whim. I have no doubt that these night-time raids are traumatizing for residents of areas in which they occur but I do not see how they affect the movement of professionals during the working day hours.
- Spontaneous unpredictable roadblocks. I spoke with Bassem Eid about this point. He reminded me that in any city in Israel (and other parts of the world these days), traffic can be suddenly stopped if there has been a report of a suspicious package. In response to such reports, roadblocks are set up without prior warning across major interurban highways or on main streets in Israeli cities, causing huge traffic jams in all directions, and inconveniencing scores if not hundreds of individuals, many of whom likely arrive late to meetings and perhaps even have to cancel them. It is a price we pay to make sure that that suspicious object does not contain explosives that would destroy lives permanently.
And finally, according to this article, factors underlying lack of confidence in their professionalism among counselors included:
. . . the cumulative violence, trauma and daily humiliations experienced by themselves, relatives and the adolescents and families; the unpredictability of daily life. . . . In summary, counselors and supervisor reported that the daily events of military occupation left counselors feeling professionally and personally demoralized to such an extent that there was little confidence in going beyond program delivery to train peers. The lack of receptiveness of some non-trained counselors was reported as low because of similar issues.
Bassem Eid was unequivocal in his response to the above claim by the authors:
They are exaggerating here.
He claims that it can take 15 minutes to pass through an Israeli checkpoint if your permit is in order, 30 minutes at most. Habib from Hebron concurred with this claim when I interviewed him for a separate article. Furthermore, Eid says, there are many gates in the security barrier through which adults and school children pass daily in both directions. Everyone knows the hours at which the gates are open and it is not hard to schedule meetings and other activities according to these hours.
Eid disagrees with the comment regarding “daily humiliations”. In one of his articles, he writes that:
. . . our leaders are content to preach hate then sit back and enjoy their financial perks while Palestinian society is crashing and burning.
I wonder, then, if the counselors who feel “professionally and personally demoralized” are feeling so more because of the untenable situation perpetrated in the PA by their own leaders than to a supposed “occupation” perpetrated against them by Israel. I doubt whether any of them could say that without great risk to themselves. Not everyone is willing to criticize the PA leadership as Eid does.
Finally, the authors make the absurd comment that peer group supervision
. . . cannot compensate for addressing the political and military barriers identified by counselors. Peaceful political solutions need to be sought.
I think I have shown that the barriers to participation in these peer group supervision sessions have nothing to do with the so-called “occupation” or the lack of a “peaceful political solution”. To suggest that the lack of an elusive “peace political solution” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is in any way responsible for the performance of school counselors comprises, perhaps, nothing more than another elegant way to vilify Israel.
I find it irresponsible for a psychology journal to publish an academic article that unabashedly promotes propaganda that can certainly provide fodder for the BDS movement. Is this something that the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma is happy to sign off on?