The Kfar Sava Municipality on Monday ordered the removal of a sign protesting the separation of Jewish and Arab women in maternity wards, saying it offended the public’s sensibilities.
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Posted near the city’s Meir Hospital, the sign was addressed to its director: “Dr. Eitan Wertheim, stop the segregation in maternity wards,” and bore a picture of two babies’ hands, one labeled with a Jewish name and the other with an Arabic one.
Less than 24 hours after the billboard was put up, however, the municipality ordered it taken down, most likely sometime on Tuesday.
“Following an appeal by the Kfar Sava Municipality, we hereby inform you that the sign that was erected offends the public and must therefore be removed immediately,” the billboard company that works with the city said in a letter to Zazim, the social and political activism organization responsible for the sign. Zazim paid the company thousands of shekels to post it for 20 days.
Though this was the first such billboard protesting the separation of Jews and Arabs in maternity wards, others are slated to go up in the coming days near Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah University Hospital, both in Jerusalem. The funding comes from both individual donors and the Physicians for Human Rights NGO.
In general, hospital administrations say there is no policy of separating Jewish and Arab mothers after they have given birth, and the Health Ministry officially forbids such segregation. Nevertheless, many doctors and nurses say it is common practice, as Haaretz reported about two weeks ago. Usually, it is done at the mothers’ request rather than at the hospital’s own initiative.
“These billboards were fully funded by citizens to whom it was important to make a clear statement against segregation,” said Raluca Ganea, executive director of Zazim. “The Kfar Sava municipality’s response not only severely violates these citizens’ freedom of expression, but gives a tailwind to the policy of segregation in the hospitals when it deems our opposition offensive and pushes us out of the public square.”
The group has also organized a petition against separating Jewish and Arab mothers. It was signed by some 2,200 people and sent to the directors of every hospital in Israel.
“The battle against separation is a battle over the public square,” said Shada Zoabi, another Zazim activist. “We won’t give up our foothold in this square and we won’t let our voice be pushed to the margins.”
PHR said in a statement that “instead of joining our appeal, the Kfar Sava Municipality is trying to silence criticism. The racism that exists in Israel is also present in the health system, and silencing it won’t make it go away, but will only strengthen it. Medical ethics mandate egalitarian and respectful treatment, and all hospitals must abide by these rules, without exception.”
At a hearing on the issue of separation in maternity wards that was held by the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women last month, an Arab obstetrician who works at Meir Hospital said she had begun to witness the phenomenon shortly after she began her residency there in 1999.
“There were rooms for Jewish women and Arab women as far back as 2001 or 2002, and nobody talked about it,” Dr. Kifaya Masri-Rabi said. “There is racism among the staff. I remember one senior doctor on the ward looking at the schedule of births and saying, ‘What a disgusting schedule we have today, eight births by Arab women.’ Another time they told me, ‘Go to the reception desk, your friends have arrived’ – about some Arab women who had arrived to give birth. The racism comes from the doctors, from the administration and from the hospital itself. It’s not right to blame the nurses.”
For its part, the municipality said that, “In response to complaints from many residents, Jews and Arabs – some of them patients at or employees of the hospital, which is an outstanding example of coexistence – about the offensive message on the sign posted at the entrance to Meir Hospital ... the franchisee has been asked to remove it and has acceded to this request.
"The Kfar Sava Municipality is an exemplar of coexistence and good neighborliness, and Meir Hospital is a source of pride to the city and treats all residents of the area devotedly and professionally, without distinction between religion, race or sex.”