Dozens of graduates of a Palestinian medical school gathered outside the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday to protest their continuing ineligibility to work in Israeli hospitals.
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The graduates of the Al-Quds School of Medicine in Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, had hoped new Health Minister Yael German would reverse her predecessors' policy on the matter.
The policy, which has been in place for seven years, is political. Because part of the Al-Quds University campus – though not the medical school – is located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, the Health Ministry and Council of Higher Education refuse to allow graduates in medicine and other health professions to sit for their licensing boards as "foreign university" graduates. Nor can they can they take the boards as Israeli graduates, because Al-Quds in not accredited by the council.
As a result, some 60 physicians, a similar number of dentists, and a few hundred lab technicians and physiotherapists who have finished their studies cannot work in the health system, even in East Jerusalem. This flies in the face of the serious shortage of Arabic-speaking health professionals in the capital in general, and East Jerusalem in particular.
Moreover, the Al-Quds School of Medicine is considered a top-notch medical school. In the past, when the Health Ministry allowed Al-Quds graduates to take the licensing exams, they consistently scored higher than the graduates of any other foreign medical school. Graduates of medical schools elsewhere in the territories can take the Israeli exams and work in Israel, even though their training is not as highly regarded.
The Health Ministry admits its policy on the medical school is political and that it was formulated in consultation with diplomats. But what makes the situation even more peculiar is that Al-Quds law graduates and graduates of other departments are allowed to sit for the Israeli Bar Association or other relevant Israeli professional licensing exams.
“It isn’t clear why the health minister has to be the pipeline for exerting diplomatic pressure on the backs of doctors and patients in Jerusalem,” says attorney Shlomo Lecker, who is representing the doctors.
In 2011, Lecker filed suit with the Jerusalem District Court, sitting as the Administrative Affairs Court, against the Health Ministry's policy. After losing that case in February 2012, he appealed to the Supreme Court, which in July 2012 affirmed the lower court ruling. The justices, however, called on the Council of Higher Education to examine the possibility of splitting the university so that the medical school could be recognized separately as being outside the Jerusalem city limits. Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh and the Council on Higher education have exchanged letters in the past few months, but the state has yet to change its position.
The Health Ministry noted that both the district and high courts had rejected the Al-Quds doctors’ appeals.
“Al-Quds University operates both in the Palestinian Authority territories and within the State of Israel (without CHE approval), and as a result it isn’t possible to recognize this university as a foreign university,” the Health Ministry said in a statement. “A solution was suggested to the university administration, but apparently the good of the students is not the university administration’s highest priority, but some other agenda. The Health Ministry is waiting for the parties to coordinate so that a solution can be found that will enable the graduates to be licensed.”