Counter the Complicity of Israel’s Medical Establishment: Boycott the Jerusalem International Conference on Integrative Medicine

Occupied Ramallah, 30 June 2010

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) urges international medical professionals to boycott the Jerusalem International Conference on Integrative Medicine, scheduled for 19-22 October 2010 in Jerusalem. The conference, which is sponsored by virtually all of the major medical centers in Israel, in addition to several health organizations and the Israeli Ministry of Health, advertises its location this year by rhetorically asking, “Could there be a better place to host an international meeting about the connection between body and mind?” It thus aims to whitewash not just Israel’s system of colonial and apartheid oppression, but also the fact that the Israeli medical establishment has been complicit in the use of torture by the Israeli intelligence services against Palestinian prisoners, including children, traumatizing both their bodies and minds.

Convening such a conference in a state that violates international law and human rights as persistently as Israel would have been objectionable at any time. Organizing it now, despite the ongoing atrocious Israeli siege of 1.5 million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip is nothing short of conscious collusion in covering up Israel’s crimes. The UN and leading human rights organizations have amply documented the devastating consequence the siege has had on the health conditions of the Palestinian population, especially on children, where stunted growth and anemia have become widespread. A recent report in the BBC in fact reveals how Israel is only allowing the “minimum calorie intake needed by Gaza’s million and a half inhabitants, according to their age and sex,” as a form of severe collective punishment. [1]

Coming on the heels of Israel’s latest Freedom Flotilla massacre on 31 May 2010, convening this conference displays total disregard to human rights and, at best, betrays apathy towards substantial violation of medical ethics in Israel. Scottish human rights campaigner, Theresa McDermott, who survived that Israeli bloodbath with minor injuries revealed to the media the role Israeli physicians played in covering up the brutal and illegal treatment the victims had suffered at the hands of the Israeli commando troops who forcibly took all the hostages to the port of Ashdod. “We were processed through Ashdod and doctors there examined us, but never really treated us. When some of us pointed out the levels of bruising they told us it was just mosquito bites.” [2]

A recent study by leading Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations of Israel”s exit policy at the Erez Crossing regarding Gaza patients seeking medical treatment unavailable in Gaza concludes that the “consistent Israeli policy of distinguishing between life-threatening cases and cases that affect quality of life, as a basis to deny their exit from the [Gaza] Strip for medical treatment, … violates the principles of medical ethics and international law.” [3]

The Israeli medical establishment has consistently refused to shoulder its ethical responsibility to ensure that its institutions and members do not engage in serious violations of universal medical ethics, not to mention basic human rights, particularly Palestinians” rights to life and freedom from torture and ill-treatment.

Many convenors of this conference are no doubt aware of the persistent challenge presented to the Israeli medical establishment, and the Israeli Medical Association in particular, to investigate evidence of the collusion of medical personnel, including physicians, in the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinians in detention centers, prisons, and other facilities supervised by the security forces.

In May 2009, an open letter was addressed to the World Medical Association (WMA) Council by 725 physicians and professors from 43 countries around the world, coordinated by Professor Alan Meyers of Boston University and Dr. Derek Summerfield of the University of London. [4] The signatories protested the appointment of Dr. Yoram Blachar, the longstanding President of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), as President of the WMA, and called for his removal. In the words of the signatories, “under Dr Blachar’s leadership the IMA made a decision on political grounds years ago to turn a blind eye to torture in Israel and the institutionalised involvement of doctors.” The initiative was earlier supported by Palestinian medical and health institutions urging the condemnation of the IMA [5]

The context within which the challenge to the Israeli Medical Association was made, and which continues to be ignored by the IMA, is the WMA”s Declaration of Tokyo (1975) that specifies that “physicians shall not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures, and in all situations, including armed conflict and civil conflict”. The WMA Annual General Assembly of 2007 made it clear that inaction was not an option, stating that “this is the first time the WMA has explicitly obliged doctors to document cases of torture of which they become aware. The absence of documenting and denouncing such acts might be considered as a form of tolerance and of non-assistance to the victims” [6]

The authors of the letter also based themselves on a 1996 Amnesty International report concluding that Israeli doctors working with the security services “formed part of a system in which detainees are tortured, ill treated and humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice in conflict with medical ethics.” Later, Amnesty’s briefing to the UN Committee against Torture in September 2008 focused on Amnesty International’s continuing concerns about Israel’s failure to implement the Convention against Torture in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the intensification of measures amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. [7]

The letter goes on to explain that a 2007 report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) gives a graphic demonstration of the extent to which Israeli doctors continue to form an integral and everyday part of the running of interrogation suites whose output is torture. In November 2008, PCATI filed a contempt of court motion to the High Court of Justice against the government of Israel and the General Security Service for their responsibility for a policy that grants a-priori permits to use torture in interrogations. The IMA has never challenged torture as state policy in Israel. [8]

The letter points to a justification of the use of “moderate physical pressure” (condemned as torture by the UN Committee Against Torture) by the President of the IMA in the international medical journal The Lancet in 1997, concluding that “[t]his surely unprecedented action by the president of a national medical association has not been disowned…. In the age of evidence-based medicine his rejection of the documentary record has been unprofessional and frequently contemptuous.” [9]

The response of the National President of Hadassah, the Women”s Zionist Organization of America, which operates the Hadassah Medical Organization, one of the partners of the October conference in Jerusalem, reflects the attitude of the medical establishment in Israel. Instead of supporting a call for an investigation of serious charges of collusion by medical personnel in torture, she claimed, “[W]e are fighting to immunize science from politics…we remain above politics…and know the accusation is not true…Hadassah will mount an army to defend Israel and its medical institutions” [10].

This military language is reflective of the arrogant Zionist mindset that is emboldened by the immunity Israel enjoys in the corridors of power. Spokespersons defending the state believe that through their aggressive hasbara they can intimidate and silence critics. But that time is coming to an end. The myth of Israel as a law-abiding country has surely been shattered.

The Conference announcement introducing the controversies surrounding the incorporation of conventional and “alternative” medical principles and practices invites potential participants to Israel, “a developed Western country that is known beyond its borders for its advanced modern medical services.” [11] This colonial discourse masks the fact that instead of being a law-abiding state, Israel stands out today as one of the most serious violators of international law, all the while enjoying the protection of hegemonic world powers. Increasingly, Israel is being viewed by world public opinion as a pariah or “outlaw state,” as described by British writer, Iain Banks in the Guardian. [12]

At a time when the international movement to boycott Israeli institutions is gaining ground in response to Israel”s flagrant and persistent infringement of Palestinian human and political rights, we urge those who may consider participating in this conference to reflect upon the implication of taking part in a gathering sponsored by some of those complicit institutions. As was the case in the academic boycott against South Africa’s complicit universities during apartheid, we believe that participation in medical or academic conferences or similar events in Israel not dedicated to ending Israel”s illegal occupation and systematic racial discrimination can only contribute to the prolongation of this injustice by normalizing and thereby legitimizing it. It will inadvertently contribute to Israel’s efforts to appear as a “normal” participant in the “civilized” world of science while at the same time practicing the most pernicious form of colonial control and legalized racial discrimination against Palestinians.

Israel’s assault on the humanitarian relief Flotilla is only the latest proof that it does not understand the language of persuasion. We urge you to heed the recent appeal by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian mass organizations, trade unions, networks and organizations, that calls “on people of conscience and citizen groups all over the world to intensify BDS campaigns against Israel as the most effective means of ending the siege and holding Israel accountable to international law in the pursuit of a just peace.” [13].

We also remind you that during Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in 2008-2009, which left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, of whom 431 were children, and in which 5380 were injured and scores of medical facilities and ambulances were directly targeted leading to the death and injury of medical personnel, the Israeli medical establishment was silent. The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by the highly respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone, found Israel guilty of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, as did major international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Goldstone report concluded that Israel”s war on Gaza was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” [14]

Our call for a boycott of this conference comes against the background of repeated appeals by Palestinian health workers and medical organizations to boycott the Israeli health establishment. In 2006, an appeal issued by major health organizations in Gaza at the height of the siege that left patients dying and health workers and hospitals under fire, urged a boycott of Israeli health institutions. [15]

The 2004 PACBI call for boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, [16] like the Palestinian civil society”s widely endorsed call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in 2005, [17] is based on the same moral principle embodied in the international civil society campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa: that people of conscience must take a stand against oppression and use all the means of civil resistance available to bring it to an end.




[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

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