Israel Must Let Arab Doctors Work in Jerusalem Hospitals

The situation where medical practitioners who studied in East Jerusalem are not allowed to work in the city's hospitals is absurd, discriminatory, and unacceptable; and it is up to Israel's new health minister to remedy it.

Jerusalem’s health care system suffers from a shortage of Arabic-speaking doctors and medical staff. Hospitals in East Jerusalem are desperate for doctors. Meanwhile some 60 doctors, 60 dentists and hundreds of lab technicians and physiotherapists have finished their medical school studies at the highest levels and are willing to fill these positions immediately.

Yet the health care system doesn’t want them.

The problem for these doctors and medical staff, who demonstrated outside the Health Ministry on Thursday, was that they studied at East Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University. Since some of the university’s buildings − not the ones affiliated with its medical school − are located within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, the Health Ministry doesn’t want to recognize the university as a foreign one.

The absurdity is heightened by the fact that graduates of Al Quds’ law school can apply to take the bar exam administered by the Israel Bar Association, and similar arrangements are in place for graduates in other fields as well.

Two years ago the doctors petitioned the district court to allow them to work in the city’s hospitals. The court rejected their petition, and the doctors appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices rejected the doctors’ appeal, but they also called on the Council for Higher Education and the Health Ministry to examine the university’s request and to divide the institution and recognize the medical school separately as situated outside the boundaries of Jerusalem.

The justices’ demands didn’t sway the government, however, which refuses to budge.

Yael German’s entry onto the scene as health minister was supposed to change the state’s discriminatory treatment of these medical school graduates. Yet German decided to continue with the policy charted by a right-wing government that refused to make any gesture toward the Arab population and decided that these doctors could not apply for accreditation exams − and, as a result, would not be permitted to work in the city’s hospitals.

The status quo − whereby a university is not recognized as a foreign institution nor is it recognized by Israel’s Council for Higher Education − is unacceptable. The fact that doctors coming from other countries are allowed to work in Israel while doctors who study in East Jerusalem cannot is an outrageous expression of a discriminatory policy.

It would be appropriate for German to respond to the justices’ call and find a way to correct the injustice being done to these doctors.

Emil Salman