Israeli Health Officials Deny Maternity Segregation; Arab Doctors Disagree

Medical establishment on the defensive following media reports of discrimination in maternity wards.

Babies in a maternity ward.
Alon Ron

The medical establishment insisted on Wednesday that there was no segregation between Jewish and Arab women in maternity wards. However, Arab doctors complained of racist and discriminatory treatment by medical staff in the country’s hospitals.

Dr. Eran Halperin, chairman of the Association of Hospital Directors, rejected on Wednesday claims of a segregation policy in maternity wards. “The health establishment is not racist, patients are treated on the basis of medical considerations and priorities only,” he said, at a stormy debate in the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.

Health officials denied recent testimonies about discrimination against Arab women in many hospital maternity wards, stressing there was no official or unofficial segregation policy.

“The Health Ministry denounces any kind of segregation among patients in any health institute,” said Dr. Sigal Taub of the Health Ministry. “We give equal service to all patients, regardless of religion, race or gender.”

Professor Arnon Samueloff, director of the maternity ward in Sha’are Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, angered the others by saying “there’s no racism. Everyone receives the same treatment... The rooms fill up and it’s possible to have Ethiopians, Russians or Arabs in one room – out of consideration for cultural suitability and language.”

Professor Drorit Hochner, head of the maternity ward at Hadassah Mount Scopus, said: “Some Arab women also ask not to be with Jewish women.”

But some women doctors told the committee of racist conduct in maternity wards. Dr. Lina Kassem, an obstetrician, said: “The hospital’s policy doesn’t support racism but the general atmosphere and staff is especially racist. The medical staff call delivering mothers ‘the Arab,’ ‘the Ethiopian,’ ‘the Russian.’ Women from East Jerusalem are placed as far as possible [from the nurses’ station] at the end of the hall, and in case of emergency it’s harder to reach them.”

“In some cases a doctor has been told ‘you’ve brought another terrorist,’ after bringing an Arab baby into the baby ward.”

For many years the health establishment has been segregating Arab and Jewish mothers who come to deliver their babies, particularly in hospitals and maternity wards that serve mixed populations. While this may not be official policy, it is implemented by nurses on these wards, with doctors and hospital management turning a blind eye.