As Georgian MDs Come In, Palestinian Docs Kept Out

Israeli authorities are refusing to allow dozens of Palestinian doctors to take its licensing test despite chronic shortages in doctors and medical personnel.

"The professional level of the doctors who graduate from Al Quds University is not inferior to that of East European countries," says Dr. Adib Nassar Al Din of East Jerusalem.

Nassar Al Din, 29, who graduated from Al Quds' medical faculty, has an Israeli identity card and speaks fluent Hebrew, but he is not allowed to practice medicine in Israel. He and other Al Quds graduates are not recognized as trained physicians because the Council for Higher Education does not view the Palestinian university as an institution whose graduate MD are eligible to practice medicine in Israel. Yet, the Health Ministry - which is responsible to accrediting MDs from foreign institutions of higher education - does not recognize Al Quds' medical degree either.

Along with Dr. Nasrin Hijazi, 33, also a graduate of the university, which is situated in Abu Dis near Jerusalem, Nassar Al Din has been fighting a five-year struggle with the Israeli authorities to be allowed to take the licensing test. Despite involving the Labor Court And the Jerusalem District Court, they have been unable to do so.

In a few month, Nasser Al Din will finish his residency in the pediatrics department of Makassed Hospital, East Jerusalem, and will join the ranks of East Jerusalem's 40-odd unemployed physicians from Al Quds.

Hijazi, for example, finished her residency five years ago as a general practitioner but has not been allowed to take the steps necessary to find work at one of East Jerusalem's HMO clinics.

Some of the graduates of Al Quds have been allowed to work in the U.S. and the U.K., after passing the licensing tests of these countries.

Medical professionals from Al Quds who are not MDs are allowed to work in Israel. The Health Ministry has allowed graduates of Al Quds' nurses' course to take tests to qualify as caretakers and nurses in Israeli institutions.

The Education Ministry, for its part, employs graduates of teacher training faculties in East Jerusalem institutions, and holders of law degrees from Al Quds are allowed to take the bar exam. Those who pass it become attorneys and are allowed to appear before Israeli courts.

Meanwhile, the director-general of the Jewish Agency, Moshe Vigdor has called on the Health Ministry to facilitate the immigration to Israel of hundreds of Jewish doctors from the Diaspora, who are said to be contemplating the move.

Vigdor made his call in view of the Health Ministry's drive to bring to Israel dozens of anesthesiologists from the Republic of Georgia, as published in Haaretz last week. The Health Ministry, according to officials, has been discussing the possibility of giving Jewish immigrant doctors special concessions when applying for the licensing exams, following a request by the Jewish Agency. The agency is requesting concessions for doctors from Russia, Ukraine and South America, but the Health Ministry has so far refused to grant them.

Another option favored by the Jewish Agency is to open an institution in Russia that will prepare Russian-speaking doctors for the Israeli licensing exam before they immigrate to Israel.

In an interview to mark the end of his six-year term, outgoing ministry director general Avi Yisraeli said the initiative to bring anesthetists and surgeons from the Republic of Georgia to fill the domestic shortfall was triggered by a chance encounter with Georgia's health minister. Some 20 doctors will arrive in a few months to take part in a pilot program at four hospitals.

Dan Even contributed to this article.