Students at Tel Aviv University.
Students at Tel Aviv University. Photo by David Bachar
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Israel’s medical establishment is mobilizing against an open letter, published in the UK medical journal The Lancet, that denounced what its authors called Israel’s “aggression” in Gaza.

The letter’s five authors, writing on behalf of 24 signatories, asked their colleagues to join in their denunciation. And they called much of Israel's medical community complicit in a "massacre" in Gaza because it has not signed an appeal to stop the fighting.

“We challenge the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called ‘defensive aggression,’" the open letter says. “In reality it is a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity.”

Professor Gad Keren, director of the cardiology department at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, called on Israeli doctors and academics to come out publicly against the open letter in The Lancet.

“This respected journal has in recent years begun to take political positions, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Keren said. "It has demonstrated incitement and bias against the State of Israel in a one-sided, tendentious manner.

“The recent campaign stating that Israel commits war crimes in Gaza is an ugly, one-sided attack on a topic that is not [within the Lancet's] purview. These lies being spread by the [Lancet] about the Israeli army and the State of Israel have reached a new peak. The journal has mounted a harsh attack on Israel, which, again, is acting only to protect its citizens from attacks by a terrorist group.”

He took the authors to task, saying that the letter includes “not one word of criticism against a cruel terrorist organization that is firing rockets at Israel and excavating tunnels underneath Israeli communities and collective farms.”

Keren then called upon “Israel’s medical establishment, Israeli academia and all physicians in Israel to sharply respond from every possible platform, refute the campaign and denounce the journal for its one-sided action, which has no parallel in scientific journalism anywhere else in the academic world.” He warned against disregarding the letter because the Lancet is so widely circulated and is read by the world’s top scientists and physicians.

“Rather, we must defend the reputation of Israel and the Israeli army, which is the most moral army on Earth, throughout the world,” he added.

Professor Zvi Ram, director of Ichilov's neurosurgery department, also responded to the letter, stressing that as a physician, father and grandfather, he sympathized “with the cry to stop war and suffering on all sides.” But he challenged the authors to engage in dialogue.

“I am not blind to the subjectivity of all ‘objective’ information we (including the authors) are fed, and in turn voice out,” he wrote. “I also recognize the cynicism of politics and accept, with dismay, the reality that we are often simple pawns in the hands of global, corporate and religious interests far stronger than we can ever imagine.”

He then encouraged the letter’s authors and their supporters to offer a solution to the Gaza crisis. “Apparently, this impasse calls for miraculous and ingenious thinking, and I, as well as many on both sides of the conflict, would be grateful to hear it and plead with our leaders to adopt such a course,” he wrote.

“Accepting the Hamas Charter for annihilation of the Jews and the State of Israel is strangely not a very appealing option. I am looking forward to a constructive and fair discussion.”

The Lancet, which was established in 1823, is considered one of the most important journals in science and medicine. The open letter criticized Israel's control of Gaza, saying that the Strip's population suffers “from hunger, thirst, air pollution, medicine shortages and difficulty earning a livelihood” as well as “fuel and electricity shortages and poor living conditions.” Despite “the difficult conditions,” the letter praised Gazans' efforts to “resolve their conflicts ‘without arms and harm’ through the process of reconciliation between factions, their leadership renouncing titles and positions, so that a unity government can be formed abolishing the divisive factional politics operating since 2007.”

They added, “The massacre in Gaza spares no one, and includes the disabled and sick in hospitals, children playing on the beach or on the roof top, with a large majority of non-combatants. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, and press buildings have all been attacked, with thousands of private homes bombed, clearly directing fire to target whole families, killing them within their homes, depriving families of their homes by chasing them out a few minutes before destruction.”

The authors denounced “the myth propagated by Israel that the aggression is done caring about saving civilian lives and children’s well—being.”

They expressed dismay that “only 5% of our Israeli academic colleagues signed an appeal to their government to stop the military operation against Gaza. ... We are tempted to conclude that with the exception of this 5%, the rest of the Israeli academics are complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza.”

And the authors did not limit their criticism to their Israeli colleagues: “We also see the complicity of our countries in Europe and North America in this massacre and the impotence once again of the international institutions and organizations to stop this massacre,” they wrote.

The letter was written by academics in Britain, Italy and Norway, and within two days was signed by 1,644 academics from around the world, including 74 from Israel.

This was not the editorial of the magazine, but was given a prominent place on its website, alongside images of wounded Palestinians.