1983 doctor’s strike
The 1983 doctor’s strike. Likud activists, left, clash with a striking doctor in Tel Aviv. Photo by Kit Smith
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Some people are surprised that the current doctors' strike has erupted 11 years after the great strike of 2000, in which the physicians' labor action lasted four and a half months. Then, the public was used to doctors going on strike every three to four years.

The year 1983, for example, was replete with strikes directed at the health care system in the months preceding the resignation of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In the general strike the doctors staged in April of that year, they used a weapon that today would be seen as unacceptable. They raised the price charged for medical treatment while the strike was on. At first they decided to charge NIS 600 for every emergency room visit and for any medical treatment and then they raised the ante to NIS 1,000. They were trying to apply pressure on the employers to reach a settlement quickly. Then-Health Minister Eliezer Shostak stated that any patient who surrendered to the doctors' demand and shelled out the money should know they wouldn't be reimbursed when the strike ended.

Yitzhak Peretz, who at the time was a Shas MK, was due to undergo open-heart surgery at Beilinson Hospital and he was turned down when he sought to have a strike committee dealing with exceptional cases approve the operation. He then approached Ichilov Hospital, asking to have the operation performed there. Ichilov agreed, over the protests of Beilinson doctors who claimed their colleagues were strike-breakers.

At one point, after negotiations broke down, the physicians employed another tactic. They went on a hunger strike. It began with a group of Soroka Medical Center doctors in Be'er Sheva, but quickly spread elsewhere. The media at the time covered scenes in which weakened doctors were hospitalized and given liquids intravenously. The situation worsened and by the end of that June, hospitals were closed.

The current deputy health minister, Yaakov Litzman, said mortality rates actually declined in the last big strike in 2000, relying on a report in a British medical journal, which in turn based its data on a Jerusalem Post article. It should be pointed out, however, that the data from the big strike of 1983 showed the reverse.