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Israeli Physicians’ Group Condemns State Torture

Medical doctors, Zionist government willingly participate in mass abuse of Palestinians


By Richard Walker

Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights, a group funded by the European Union, has demanded that Shin Bet, the country’s internal security service, stop coercing sick Palestinians to become informers in return for medical treatment.

The group also claims that in recent years there has been evidence of the use of torture in Israel’s detention system despite a 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling prohibiting it. In particular, two leading members of PHR—Physicians for Human Rights—allege that medical personnel have been “shamefully involved” in the use of torture.

The latest confrontation came in a statement carried in Haaretz, one of the country’s leading newspapers. It said Shin Bet was exploiting sick Palestinians by detaining them at crossing points between Israel and
Gaza and interrogating them for hours, demanding they become informers against Hamas to enter Israel for medical treatment. A man suffering from cancer was told if he did not agree to work for Shin Bet he would be sent home and the cancer would spread to his brain and kill him.

A journalist from Gaza was detained for hours after he went to a crossing seeking permission to enter Israel to have medical work done to save his eye sight. When he refused to become an informer he was denied entry and has since lost sight in one eye. He fears he will end up totally blind.

Shin Bet argues that it has a legal right to detain and question people and claims that in the past three years three people claiming to need medical treatment turned out to be suicide bombers. According to PHR, this is the “ticking time bomb” justification, which does not fit the reality.

The most damning criticism has been directed at chief medical officers and physicians whom PHR claims are acting as “collaborators” in the use of torture.

Hadas Ziv, who is executive director of PHR-Israel and Dr. Ze’evWeiner, a psychiatrist and member of the group’s Ethics Committee reject the “ticking time bomb” argument. They say medical personnel should be prohibited by their professional bodies from participating in any way in the use of torture. According to Ziv and Weiner, physicians are turning a blind eye to torture or enabling it by monitoring the health of a prisoner during an interrogation. They offer the following

solution to end torture:

“Some will ask why we focus on medical personnel; shouldn’t torture itself be the focal point of the struggle? The answer is: Of course it should. However, we should not downplay the importance of removing physicians from the system as the most effective step towards eradicating torture entirely. Medical personnel are a central tool or a kind of fig leaf that enables others within the system to carry out this kind of activity under a veil. Try to imagine an execution taking place in the United States without an anesthesiologist to enable the execution to be conducted without pain. Or try to imagine the Shin Bet designing methods of torture without seeking medical consultation, or an interrogator working without a medical safety net to treat those who are injured. In addition, the mere existence of torture harms the whole of society and the involvement of physicians in torture destroys the ethical cornerstone of the medical profession. Its ramifications extend in general beyond the walls of the prison and interrogation facilities. If organizations such as Shin Bet and the Ministry of Defense lack ethical codes then the involvement of physicians in torture, in knowing, in acting, in failing to report or issue warnings is prohibited under every ethical code.”

Ziv and Weiner also allege that detainees who have been seriously tortured have often come into direct contact with medical teams in the emergency rooms of general and psychiatric hospitals and it is up to those teams, who are not under the prison regime, to “resolutely protect” tortured detainees.

“We have been disappointed here too,” say Ziv and Weiner. “It is enough to mention that several detainees who arrived at hospital with signs of torture on their body or mind who were returned immediately or several days later to the interrogation facilities, to their torturers. We should take into account here the fact that there exists a comprehensive system in Israel that dehumanizes the victim and places security considerations over the interests of the detainee-patient.”

The two PGR executives quote the renowned academic, Prof. Daniel Statman, who said the fact torture is reserved for Palestinians and not Jews confirms that it is used to gain control over the Palestinians and to intimidate and restrain them – not to obtain information about a “ticking time bomb.”

Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so that he can discuss topics considered taboo in the mainstream press.

(Issue # 33, August 18, 2008)

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