Dr. Leonid Eidelman
Dr. Leonid Eidelman Photo by Tali Mayer
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IMA Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman implores Netanyahu to take steps to end 16-week doctors struggle; protesters to begin march from IMA headquarters in Ramat Gan to PM Office in Jerusalem to hand over petition that supports the doctors' strike.

The chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, announced that he was going on a hunger strike on Monday to protest the state of the health care system in Israel, after exhausting all efforts to reach a negotiated agreement with the Finance Ministry.

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A doctors' march is set to leave the IMA offices in Ramat Gan to Jerusalem, where they plan to hand to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a petition signed by tens of thousands of citizens and doctors that support the struggle.

Eidelman said at a press conference held at the IMA offices on Monday that he plans to go on a hunger strike indefinitely until their struggle is over. The IMA chairman rebuked the government for not taking the necessary steps to award doctors what they deserve, calling on Netanyahu, whom he addressed as "the prime minister and the minister of health" to get involved and resolve the 16-week crisis.

"Unfortunately, the state forsakes medicine, doctors and patients," Eidelman said at the conference, adding "128 days of striking. Yes, the deterioration in the health care system has been going on for years, but the shortage and the distress [of doctors] have only grown worse from year to year."

The IMA chairman then addressed Netanyahu directly, saying "on your shift, we have reached a breaking point and a catastrophe is around the corner. We ask, where are you Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu?"

Eidelman then said that it is in Netanyahu's power to make a simple decision – "a disaster or a solution."

"We, the doctors, stand by our soldiers day by day, doing everything to help and to save medicine," he said, imploring Netanyau to "please give us the tools to help patients."

Eidelman said that in order to save the health care system, an additional 1,000 positions must be created for doctors and residents should do no more than 6 extended shifts a month. He also demanded that immediate attention be given to medical fields in need of improvement, that doctors be sent to the periphery, that more young people be pulled in to study medicine and that base wage be increased by 50-percent per hour.

"Starting this morning," Eidelman said, "I am going on a hunger strike until the end of the struggle." He then announced the march set to commence later Monday afternoon to "save Israel's health care system."

Residents have said that they may join the IMA chairman and fast as well, the residents' representative, Dr. Aviv Shaul from the internal medicine ward at Beilinson Hospital said at the press conference.

Shaul added that in addition to the demands presented by Eidelmen, the residents require that the final agreement be set in place for a shorter amount of time, and that residents not have to do extended shifts.

Earlier Monday, the IMA launched a strike in public hospitals, after the National Union court rejected the state's request appeal for an injunction order.

The court also rejected a request by the resident doctors' union for official representation in the negotiations. The decision marks a victory for the Israel Medical Association, who has been criticized by the residents for capitulating and agreeing to terms that they deem less than optimal.

The IMA said the strike will be proportional. On Tuesday, only urgent and oncological operations will be performed in hospitals, and further steps are planned for the rest of the week.

Additional marches have been scheduled for this week, set to take place in cities throughout the country as marchers make their way from the IMA headquarters to the capital.

On Thursday morning, all of the participants in the rallies throughout the country will meet in Jerusalem where they will join forces and march to the Prime Minister's Office to deliver the petition.

Eidelman plans to erect a tent in front of the Prime Minister's Office, where he plans to stay until an agreement is reached.

Residents have planned two additional protests to take place in front of the prime minister's house in Jerusalem and the Cinamateque in Tel Aviv.