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Israeli Occupation versus the Noble Profession

“Also I will, according to my ability and judgment, prescribe a regimen for the health of the sick; but I will utterly reject harm and mischief”. A line in the oath taken by every single medical student when they graduate as doctors, the Hippocratic Oath is explicit in its requirements that every new physician uphold specific ethical standards. Of historic and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine in many countries, however, it would appear as if the medical practitioners in Israel have chosen their culture of occupation over their duties to the noble profession. A medical doctor myself, I am astounded at the level of disregard for the basic principles to the commitment of life and health that Israeli doctors have practiced in recent years. These practices have spread their tentacles far into the Israeli healthcare system, poisoning the nobility of a profession committed to life.

A stark example of the disparity and complete desecration of the principle of universal and equal healthcare, Israeli health practitioners regularly separate Israeli and Palestinian mothers in the maternity ward. According to an investigation recently published by public radio broadcaster Israel Radio, while in some hospitals it is an unofficial policy always carried out; at others the segregation occurs at the behest of patients. The phenomenon of segregating Jewish and Palestinian women in Israeli hospitals is far from new, and it has been reported by major media outlets for at least the past decade. A 2006 article in Haaretz highlighted the practice in two hospitals in northern Israel in which one of the hospitals defended the policy at the time citing “differences in mentality” among Jewish and Palestinian patients. Six years later, in 2012, the Ma’ariv daily newspaper found identical results at some of the exact same hospitals that Israel Radio exposed as implementing segregation. Even within the Israeli health system segregation does not only take place along Jewish-Arab divides- in 2012 the Health Ministry ordered hospitals across the country to put African asylum seekers into isolation. Working in some of South Africa’s largest public hospitals where many of our patients are asylum seekers and refugees, I cannot even fathom the idea of them being isolated at hospitals or receiving less than optimal treatment based on their race or origin.

Another aspect that Israeli healthcare professionals have failed in is their increasing compliance with the military rule of the country in imposing unjust treatment upon Palestinian prisoners.   A growing portion of the Palestinian prisoners held in solitary confinement by Israel have gone on hunger strike to protest their mistreatment. Over the last two years, Israel has doubled its use of solitary confinement for all of its prisoners, both criminal and political, according to a new report from Physicians for Human Rights–Israel (PHRI).  PHRI found that Israeli healthcare professionals give solitary confinement “a medical stamp of approval”, despite the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo prohibiting physicians from taking part in any way in torture or cruel punishment. “Solitary confinement is chosen for the duration of interrogations precisely because of its devastating psychological effects on individuals,” the report states. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, argued that solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture and can result in permanent psychological damage. It was found that prison health providers will explicitly state that a prisoner is “fit for solitary confinement” or “there is nothing to prevent solitary confinement in this case.” An update to the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo in 2007, which the Israeli Medical Association approved, obliges physicians to report any instance of torture they witness and yet Israeli physicians are working in direct contradiction to this. Again, they have not only defiled their commitment to the Hippocratic Oath but to the profession as well.

May it be in the maternity wards, where given the documented conduct of Israeli physicians one can reliably extrapolate that the segregated Arab and African asylum seekers receive far less than optimal treatment compared to the Jewish mothers, or it be with regards to the healthcare rights of Palestinian political prisoners, it is clear that the degree of absolute disregard for the fundamental commitment to being a doctor is being ignored by Israeli physicians. Just as Dr Ivor Lang, Dr Benjamin Tucker and Dr Colin Hersch subordinated their Hippocratic Oath to the will of the Apartheid regime’s officers, which ultimately led to the death of Steve Biko, Israeli doctors have set themselves on the same path to disgracing their promise to the profession in favour of upholding the principles of the occupation forces of Israel.

Written by: Dr Aayesha J Soni, Vice Chairperson of the Media Review Network

Follow Aayesha: @AayeshaJ