Israeli Doctors Who Betray Their Training

From the prison guards and from Shin Bet personnel nobody expects any measure of compassion or humanity. But where are the doctors?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

They studied medicine. Perhaps their parents pushed them to be doctors or perhaps they had a burning desire to enter this profession from the time they were children. They certainly thought about a career but they also thought about the sanctity of this profession, about the noble aspiration to save lives and cure the sick. They certainly read the Hippocratic Oath, which is a very moving document. In the oath’s Hebrew version, which was composed by Prof. Lipman Halpern in 1952, they also swore that they would “help all sick people irrespective of whether they are strangers, or Gentiles, or humiliated citizens, or respected ones.”

They studied medicine in Jerusalem, in Moscow, in Budapest and in Odessa. They dreamed of a career but, in the end, they found themselves working as physicians in the Israel Prison Service or in the Shin Bet security service, although even there they had no reason to be ashamed of their profession. Some of them certainly encountered the case of Maysara Abuhamdieh, a prisoner who was serving a life sentence. In August 2012, Abuhamdieh complained of sharp pains in his throat. Only after six months (!‏) − that is, only last February − was he diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the esophagus. Only after two additional months had already elapsed − that is, on March 30 − was it decided that he would be hospitalized in Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva. He died two weeks later.

During those critical months, his desperate family appealed to Physicians for Human Rights - Israel: Their beloved Maysara could barely speak any more because of the pain and they shuddered to consider the possibility that he might not receive proper medical care. A month ago, a representative of that organization submitted to the prison service’s top medical officer, Chief Superintendent Dr. Liav Goldstein, the urgent request that the prisoner receive medical treatment. Goldstein did not even bother to reply.

Israel’s 2001 law governing the early release of prisoners authorizes the prison service’s parole board to arrange for the early release of a prisoner whose days are numbered. In this case, the board operated at an appallingly slow pace. When asked to explain this week why Abuhamdieh, who was obviously dying, was not released early, Commissioner Nazim Sabiti, commander of the prison service’s southern district, simply stated that a meeting of the board was indeed held on the subject of the prisoner’s release.

All this transpired under the supposedly watchful eye of physicians who had taken the Hippocratic Oath. These same physicians allow the hospitalization of prisoners who are hand- and foot-cuffed even when in serious condition, as was the case with Abuhamdieh.

These same physicians saw the situation of another prisoner, Zuheir Lubada, whose kidneys and liver were diseased and who was dying. Lubada was released from prison only after he had slipped into a comma and was in serious condition; he died a week later. These same physicians enable the scandalous practice of solitary confinement for months and even years on end, despite the report of the Israeli Medical Association’s ethics committee that has categorically stated that this practice inflicts irreversible physical and emotional damage on inmates.

These are the same physicians who saw prisoner Ben Zygier while he was in solitary confinement. For years, they witnessed the results of the torture that the Shin Bet uses in its interrogations. They saw and were silent. They saw and gave their approval, despite the regulations of their own ethics committee, according to which: “A physician that is witness to interrogation or torture conducted contrary to international treaties shall report such acts to the appropriate authorities.” Have we heard any mention of even one physician who reported improper procedures, who screamed to high heaven, who issued a warning or who even resigned in the face of such acts?

“This is the cancer of the occupation.” That is the diagnosis of a physician, MK Dr. Ahmed Tibi ‏(United Arab List - Ta’al‏), who wrote that sentence this week on his Twitter page in response to the death of Maysara Abuhamdieh, who finally succumbed to cancer. Like Zygier, Abuhamdieh was Prisoner X; few people knew of his disease, and it is doubtful whether he was given the medical treatment he deserved as a human being. Granted, the prison guards saw and said nothing, and the Shin Bet delayed Abuhamdieh’s early release from prison so he could at least die surrounded by the members of his family. From the prison guards and from Shin Bet personnel nobody expects any measure of compassion or humanity. But where were the doctors?

Next time Israel sends a medical team to a disaster area overseas and its physicians work hard to extend medical care to the victims of that disaster, one must not forget their colleagues, the physicians who say nothing, who close their eyes, who do not provide necessary medical attention − here in Israel, in the prisons and in the interrogation rooms. They are also physicians and they also once signed the Hippocratic Oath.

The IDF court in Ofer Prison in West Bank.Credit: JINI

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