Chair's Blog: The launch of the Palestine-UK Social Work Network
This time the Chair’s Blog post is a collaboration between myself and colleagues from the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists.
The launch of the Palestine-UK Social Work Network
Messages from Palestinian colleagues
Having been active in the BASW Derbyshire branch in the 1990s, I became an armchair member for a few years, enjoying PSW but not doing a lot else BASW-activity-wise (other than a talk on solution-focused practice and social work for my erstwhile Derby colleagues). Then in 2011 I joined together with some BASW colleagues to develop some contacts with Palestinian social workers that BASW member, Sarah Sturge, had made the previous year. In November 2011, Sarah and I, together with BASW England Chair, Dave Harrop, and BASW England committee member (and former Council member) Rupert Franklin, visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
We met with social workers from the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists (PUSWP) in Jerusalem, Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron, and forged links that helped us to go on to create the Palestine-UK Social Work Network. The launch event for the network took place at the University of Durham in November 2012, and though none of the Palestinian colleagues we had met were able to be there in person, I was able to show video messages some of them had made for us. In October that year, I had attended a congress on narrative therapy and trauma at the Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, in Ramallah in the West Bank. I took my camcorder with me, and was able to interview some PUSWP members during my stay in Palestine.
This is what they said, beginning with Munther Amira, who talked with me across the road from the huge Separation Wall that the Israelis have built inside the West Bank. The wall dominates the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, where Munther lives, and has an enormous and negative impact on the Palestinians there. Munther is currently in an Israeli jail, having been arrested for peacefully protesting the arrest of 16-year old Ahed Tamimi by Israeli soldiers, in December 2017.
“Hello, I’m Munther Amira. I’m the General Secretary of the Union of Social Workers in Palestine. I want to say hello to you in Durham University.
We are at the entrance to Bethlehem, like you see. We are living here, inside the wall. For us as social workers it is very hard. We are working in two ways, working with our internal problems, with women, children, the abuse of children, with women’s issues, with young people; but the main challenges that we are having is this wall and this occupation that is standing on our land. So I am working mainly with the refugees.
I want to send the regards of the Palestinian social workers in Palestine to you. And I hope that you will succeed with your conference, and I hope in the future we can have a strong relationship, and exchange programmes, to come to see our work here in Palestine, how we deal with this bad occupation, under these very hard conditions.”
I recorded Raed Amira’s message in the same spot. Raed works for UNRWA - the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East - that was created in 1949 to support Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948 or following the Six Day War in 1967. He has updated his message in a recent email to me, to reflect his new position.
“Hello, my name is Raed Amira. I am the Human Rights Representative, International Federation of Social Workers, Asia-Pacific region, and Coordinator of Public and International Relations for PUSWP. I am looking forward to supporting and advocating together for humanitarian life worldwide. We have to stand always to fight all the challenges for communities, to be free from occupation and able to live in peace, freedom and justice.
From Palestine we send a message full of freedom, and a dream - social workers without borders.”
The other two messages were recorded in Hebron, just outside Qurtuba School. If you saw the Channel 4 drama, The Promise, you will have seen where this school is situated, above Shuhada Street, a ghost street of empty Palestinian businesses, closed to Palestinians for many years by the Israeli army and occupied by settlers. Read about the background to this and the campaign to open the street here.
I spoke first to Hekmat, one of the school counsellors.
“I am Hekmat Alqawsmeh. I am a psychologist with children in Qurtuba School in Shuhada Street, the area closed by the Israeli army here in Hebron.
I work under difficult conditions because the students and the school are exposed to attacks by the Israeli army and the settlers. This causes various psychological problems for the children. I thank you for supporting the school and students in Palestine and for giving time to listen to our cause. Best regards and greetings from us in Palestine. I thank you for giving attention to us.”
Finally, I recorded an interview with one of the first PUSWP members we met, Riad Arar. Riad works for Defense for Children International, who organised a visit for us to Ofer Military Court when we visited in 2011. We later wrote about this, and about the treatment of Palestinian children that we witnessed, in this letter to the Guardian.
“My name is Riad Arar. I’m working with DCI - Defense for Children International - and I’m also the President of the Union of Social Workers and Psychologists in Hebron Governorate.
DCI was established in 1992 in Palestine. It’s one of the 44 sections in the world, the main section being in Geneva. In Palestine we are working with children’s rights and the identity of our association is human rights and children’s rights in general, while working with child prisoners - those children arrested by the Israeli occupation.
We also work with child abuse, physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
I’m a social worker, and my major work is to organise our community. We organise many campaigns in order to protect children and to respect their rights in our community.
We have a legal aid unit, to support the children arrested from the occupation, and also, on the other side, the children arrested from the Palestinian Authority. There are many lawyers in our association, they can defend our children in front of the court, defending their rights.”
What are your hopes, Riad, for the links between British social workers and Palestinian social workers?
“We are a part of this world. We are happy to have a good link between us in Palestine and between you and I think there is a good hope for us as Palestinians to have this relation and this networking with the British Association of Social Workers.
I think this relationship is very good for us as Palestinians, because it is a good opportunity to exchange our knowledge, to exchange our experience, to exchange our skills, in order to help the people and to work with them and to join human rights and children’s rights in our social work in general.
But also our dreams and our hopes are focused on liberation, to remove the occupation and to live safely in Palestine, like other people in the world.
I want to say to my colleague, Guy, and to Sarah and also Dave, that I wish all the best for you and I wish that the conference in November is a success and this is a kiss from Palestine for you! Many thanks for you.”
More information about the Palestine–UK Social Work Network and its development can be found in my 2015 article in the Critical and Radical Social Work journal -
Shennan, G. (2015). The Palestine–UK Social Work Network: taking collective responsibility for social justice and human rights, Critical and Radical Social Work, 3, 1, 125-129.
If you are interested in becoming involved in the network, email firstname.lastname@example.org