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Health care before politics

The article “Editor Ousted: Gaza Conflict Costs Journalist her Job” (Fox, April 4-10) refers. The article begins by stating that “the war in Gaza has cost the editor of the South African Medical Journal [SAMJ] her job”. It then goes on to substantiate this false claim by quoting everybody except the person to whom the editorial in question was directed. That would be me. I endeavour to set the record straight.

I am a frequent commentator on the conflict in Gaza. I was approached by a colleague to write an editorial for the SAMJ on the situation. The focus would be on the systematic weaponisation of health by Israel in Gaza — health-care facilities and workers have been deliberately and inhumanely targeted and killed. This isn’t a novel concept, and the sheer scale of health-care destruction in Gaza has attracted the outcry of doctors globally. Reports have been published in reputable journals, including The Lancet and British Medical Journal. In his editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr Matthew Wynia made two unimpeachable points:

  • Health professionals should condemn dehumanisation and acts of genocide; and
  • Health professionals have special responsibilities to speak out against certain war crimes.

Israel is guilty of the above — of that there is no evidence lacking from multiple human rights resources, and this dates back to before October 7. Speaking out against it in all forms is our moral obligation, and so it would make sense that South Africa’s main academic medical journal would do so too.

My article was fact-based, with 20 references, and unemotive; it is now published as a scientific article in the South African Journal of Bioethics and LawSAMJ editor Bridget Farham replied saying that she found it one-sided without me mentioning the events of October 7. I replied that I could write about the politics of the 75-year Israeli occupation of Palestine, but that I didn’t think that would be appropriate for the SAMJ. Further, the events of October 7 must be viewed in the context of an occupied people entitled to armed resistance, a tenet supported under international law. I added that I am well aware that taking a definitive stance against the actions of Israel will come with repercussions, but that silence is complicity.

Instead of engaging me further via e-mail, Farham decided to address her concerns in an editorial. This was gross abuse of her power. I find it unacceptable that what I said in private was misconstrued to express her opinion. I was referred to personally, as was my article.

Farham’s conduct has tarnished the credibility of the SAMJ, which I do not believe her lacklustre apology makes up for. This goes against the ethics of an editor and I applaud Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa and the leadership at the South African Medical Association for the apology that was released after her editorial. The genocide in Gaza didn’t cost Farham her job — her actions and personal biases did.

The weaponisation of health negates the right to exist and resist. As South African health-care workers, we must join the call of millions around the world demanding justice against Israel. You cannot have editors using their platform to express personal agendas.

Dr Aayesha Soni
Specialist neurologist and medical volunteer with Gift of the Givers