Red Lines


On 9 June, doctors across Israel received an email from Zion Hagay, the president of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), saying that a red line had been crossed. The night before, Udi Baharav, a 71-year-old physician and volunteer wearing a high-visibility doctor’s vest, had been violently arrested during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv. Video clips of the police using excessive force went viral on social media and were picked up by the press. Dr Baharav was detained for hours simply for fulfilling his duty as a doctor and providing medical care to a protester.

Professor Hagay was appalled. He notified IMA members that he had contacted the police to demand that the attack be investigated and not repeated. He informed the health minister that doctors would go on strike if no action were taken against the officers responsible. Many doctors praised Hagay’s intervention. Yet his email aroused in me and other Palestinian doctors in Israel a sense of anger: not at what he was writing now, but at what he has failed to write for months.

Medical professionals in Israel, like everyone else, have seen how the Israeli military has systematically attacked healthcare facilities in Gaza. They have heard how hospitals have been forced to shut their doors after Israel prevented fuel, oxygen, medicine, medical equipment and food from entering Gaza. They have seen the reports of F-16 fighter planes, drones and snipers killing patients and staff, of hospitals becoming battlefields and their grounds being turned into mass graves. They have witnessed how Israel has targeted ambulances and paramedics. They have read about the doctors from Gaza who have been kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and killed in custody. But only now, with an assault on an Israeli doctor in Tel Aviv, has a red line been crossed?

Palestinian doctors and nurses in Israeli institutions have to work among warmongering colleagues who have signed petitions calling on the government to bomb hospitals in Gaza. As Palestinians, we have to be vigilant about everything we say during our coffee breaks, about every WhatsApp message we send, every social media post, while putting up with comments from our colleagues that spark a mixture of rage, fear and impotence.

I understand Hagay’s anger with the Israeli security forces and his solidarity with the doctor they attacked. But he and the IMA have remained silent as the Israeli military has killed almost five hundred medical staff in Gaza. In April, Haaretz reported that a doctor working at the Sde Teiman detention centre had written to the Israeli defence minister, health minister and attorney general documenting the conditions faced by Palestinian detainees. ‘Just this week, two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which unfortunately is a routine event,’ the doctor wrote. The IMA did not threaten to go on strike.

This week it was revealed that another Palestinian doctor died in a Shin Bet interrogation facility last November. The IMA did not comment. Meanwhile, another Israeli doctor was injured by police at a demonstration. Professor Hagay wrote to the prime minister to complain, and on Sunday the IMA will hold an hour’s protest at medical facilities across Israel.

In January, the IMA issued a statement that ‘Israeli physicians treat people whomever they are and regardless of their actions, simply by virtue of their being human beings.’ But Hagay’s email of 9 June underscores the silence of the Israeli medical establishment in the face of the atrocities in Gaza, and illustrates how the IMA distinguishes between people. The protracted silence is evidence that, in the eyes of Israeli doctors’ main professional body, Palestinian medical staff in Gaza, like the rest of the Palestinian population, do not count.