Israeli Medical Association shirks “political aspects” of torture

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7007.755c (Published 16 September 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:755
  1. Derek Summerfield, Principal psychiatrist
  1. Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture, London NW5 3EJ

    EDITOR,--There is a body of evidence, collated by both domestic1 and international human rights organisations,2 of the longstanding use of torture in Israel as an instrument of state policy that cannot be ignored. This material also documents the questionable role of doctors in army units and detention centres as well as the persistent silence of the Israeli medical establishment. Only in 1993, following publicity about the existence of a medical “fitness for interrogation” form (in effect fitness for torture), was the Israeli Medical Association prompted to intervene. They disavowed the use of this form by doctors, but they did not denounce torture per se nor the everyday presence of the same doctors in and around rooms where this was practised.

    Torture in Israel continues, and indeed interrogators have been given official sanction to increase the coercive power of this work. Thus I recently wrote to the Israeli Medical Association to point out that they had returned to a position of silence and to urge them to take a stand. Dr Y Blachar, chairman of the centre committee, replied that the association responds when irregular behaviour by an individual member is brought to its attention, but “we are most careful not to get involved in the political aspects of the issue.” This is an ethically untenable stance. The core problem is not isolated malpractice (and who would report this to the Israeli Medical Association anyway, given that the testimony of victims is discounted?) but the routine role of doctors in what Human Rights Watch calls a bureaucratised system that has processed thousands of Palestinian detainees. As the representative body, the Israeli Medical Association cannot evade a responsibility to offer ethical leadership to those examining detainees before or after interrogation and who are likely to be in collusion with torture. The association has a duty to ensure that the two international antitorture codes for doctors, the World Medical Association's Declaration of Tokyo and the United Nations' Principles of Medical Ethics, are adhered to by their members.

    Further, the Israeli Medical Association cannot maintain that it has no position on the highly deleterious effects on physical and mental health that flow from the use of torture in Israel, as elsewhere.

    It has been noted that medical associations in countries where torture is used systematically are often remarkably passive on this issue.3 This may be a survival strategy in states like Iraq or Syria, which do not hesitate to strike at doctors interested in justice for their patients, but this does not apply in Israel. The Israeli Medical Association's stance seems to threaten its standing in the international medical fraternity and representative institutions, as was the case with South Africa, for instance. I invite others to add their voices to this request for the association to rethink its position and to respond through the BMJ.


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