Doctors - Tomer Appelbaum - July 31, 2011
Doctors march in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 31, 2011. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Thousands of doctors and residents protested Sunday at the Rose Garden opposite the Knesset in Jerusalem, demanding a solution to the crisis in the health care system.

Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, who has been on a hunger strike for nearly a week, was first to speak. "For nine months we have been negotiating, and there is still no agreement," he said. "The treasury keeps saving money on the health care sector's expense. You doctors work hard, and although we have made progress in formulating the agreement, we still haven't agreed on the principal issues – standardization, the cost of the agreement, the division of payments and the earnings."

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni also turned up at the rally, and MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) announced he is working to restart negotiations between the doctors and the Finance Ministry. A meeting between the sides has been scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

"This is not just a struggle for salaries and the future of doctors in Israel, or the future of the medical sector," Livni said. "This is a struggle for Israel's future." She added, "you doctors represent all that is good in the country, the middle class who is willing to serve in the army and work hard and save lives. If you don't deserve a decent living, who does?"

Meanwhile, the National Nurses Union announced Sunday it is joining the doctors' struggle. Dr Ilana Cohen, the head of the association, said at the rally that representatives from both sides plan to meet in order to plan the next steps. "We are joining the struggle for better working conditions in the health care system because we are all one family," she said.

Earlier on Sunday, President Shimon Peres met with IMA chairman Eidelman, and promised to speak with senior politicians and try to negotiate a solution. Eidelman called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene in the crisis, saying that "it is a great honor to come to the president's residence, but we are not looking for honor, we are looking for a solution for the problems plaguing the public health system."

Doctors at all public hospitals worked on Sabbath footing Sunday, meaning all outpatient clinics were closed and only emergency surgery were performed.

No breakthrough was achieved in last week's talks, when it was decided that negotiations would begin again at the point at which they broke off when the medical residents’ wildcat strike began, a week and a half ago.

Representatives of the residents, who started their strike when a draft of the agreement between the IMA and the treasury led them to fear their issues were not being fully addressed in the negotiations, also spoke at the rally.