Israel bans graduates of Al Quds University from taking exam to enable them to work in Israel

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 21 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1265
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

The Israeli Medical Association has called on Israel’s health ministry to allow Palestinian doctors who graduate from Al Quds University to practise in East Jerusalem, the disputed territory at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since the first batch of medical students graduated from Al Quds in 2002 they have not been allowed to take the licensing exam that foreigners take to be able to practise in the Israeli health system. Israel says that because the university has facilities in East Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control, and in the West Bank, which is Palestinian territory, it is not technically a foreign university so its graduates cannot sit this exam. However, if they have not passed the exam they cannot work in Israel or Israeli controlled areas such as East Jerusalem. They are entitled to work in Palestinian areas not under Israeli control, such as the West Bank and Gaza.

Last June, 35 graduates who are all residents of East Jerusalem and wish to work there appealed through the Israeli courts for the health ministry to allow them to take the exam. In 2005 a similar group of graduates won the right to sit the exam after a court case, but the ruling did not lead to a blanket change of policy. So far the 35 graduates are still awaiting a court hearing.

Both Arabs and Jews claim East Jerusalem, which has holy sites of importance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as theirs; and although Israel has controlled the territory since 1967, Palestinians still see it as the capital of Palestine. It has a large Palestinian population and, the Israeli Medical Association says, an acute shortage of doctors.

“The best medical treatment can be offered only by a local resident who is deeply familiar with the local culture and inhabitants,” wrote the chairman of the association, Leonid Eidelman, in a letter to the director of the health ministry.

“I beseech you to use all your powers and recognise the university graduates as eligible to attend the Israeli certification exams,” Dr Eidelman wrote in the letter dated 30 January.

Haaretz newspaper reports that East Jerusalem has a shortage of doctors because it is not a desirable place for Israeli medical professionals to work. Many Palestinians believe that Israel is deliberately blocking Al Quds medical graduates from obtaining a licence to practise in East Jerusalem as part of its attempt to discourage Palestinians from living and working there.

Currently most of the 50 or so graduates of Al Quds medical school each year find work in the West Bank or in the United States or the United Kingdom, both of which have recognised their qualifications. Some choose to work illegally in East Jerusalem hospitals, but their situation is precarious.

The health ministry says that the problem is a bureaucratic one, related to the extraordinary cross border nature of Al Quds University. The university says that it has applied, reluctantly, in the past year to separate itself into two institutions to resolve this issue, but the application has not yet been accepted.

“We cannot recognise the graduates until the university has completed the procedure of separating its entities,” said Amir Ofek, press attaché at Israel’s embassy in the UK.

The procedure normally takes about three years to complete, he said. For Al Quds there will be an effort to make it shorter.

“It would be completely wrong to understand this case to be about the background or ethnic identity [of the doctors],” he added. “There are Arab doctors working all over Israel in all the hospitals.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1265