Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Letters Doctors and torture

The campaign about doctors and torture in Israel five years on

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 09 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4386

Rapid Response:

Israeli doctors continue to enable Israeli intelligence agency's torture industry

Dear Editor,

As a follow-up to previous BMJ correspondence on this subject, I wish to add that the active complicity of Israeli doctors with torture in Israel continues. (1) This is not only doctors attached to the intelligence agency Shin Bet or working in the Israel Prison Service, but also doctors in emergency rooms across Israel who write false medical reports. I write as a doctor and as founder of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), whose detailed case studies “Ticking Bombs” (2007) and “Doctoring the evidence, abandoning the victim” (2011), assembled irrefutable evidence for these practices. (2) (3)

These abuses go back many years. In June 1993 I organized an international conference in Tel Aviv on behalf of PHRI regarding torture in Israel. At the conference, I highlighted a Shin Bet medical eligibility form discovered by chance by an Israeli journalist. The Shin Bet doctor was asked to certify whether the prisoner could be kept in isolation, whether they could be tied up, could be hooded, and whether he could be made to stand for prolonged periods of time. This was in effect a “fitness for torture” form to be signed by the doctor. Four years later, a second form, suspiciously similar to the first, came to light, yet Shin Bet always denied that it had ever existed. At the time PHRI asked the Israel Medical Association (IMA) to take action, as they are mandated to do as a member of the World Medical Association (WMA)- the WMA’s Declaration of Tokyo forbids any doctor to collaborate with torture, and directs them to speak out and protect the patient when torture is suspected. The IMA would not act.

Our findings were published in the book “Torture: Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the case of Israel” (1995) whose sale in Israel appears to be banned.

26 years later, in late 2019, we witness the same course of events in the case of a 44 year old Palestinian man Samer Arbeed whose interrogation left him hospitalised in a life-threatening state, in coma on a respirator and in kidney failure. No doctor who saw him, nor the Israeli Medical Association, protested about his torture.

Moreover, doctors in emergency rooms across Israel write false medical opinions in accordance with the demands of Shin Bet, and have done so for years. PHRI documented such cases in “Doctoring the evidence, abandoning the victim” (2011).

The Shin Bet medical eligibility form allows for: sleep prevention; exposure of prisoners to extreme temperatures; beatings; being tied for long periods in “stress” positions; being forced to stand for long periods; being hooded for prolonged periods; sexual humiliation; solitary confinement; no contact with family or lawyer. This kind of “eligibility” leads the prisoner directly into the torture chamber — and the doctor knows this. Moreover his presence in the unit confers on the interrogators the moral authority of the medical profession and gives them confidence. In this role he has always been shielded by the IMA. But a doctor who cooperates with Israel’s torture industry is complicit in that very industry. If a prisoner dies during interrogation, the doctor is an accomplice to his or her murder. A recent report by Adameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, gives a graphic account of the kinds of torture and ill-treatment that continue. (4)

In Nazi Germany and Japan during World War 2, in South America in the 1970s/80s, in USA post-9/11 and elsewhere, history has demonstrated how doctors can become loyal servants of regimes, aiding and abetting their human rights crimes. The same goes for Israel.

Dr Ruchama Marton

1. Summerfield D. The campaign about doctors and torture in Israel five years on.
BMJ 2014;349:g4386.
2. “Ticking Bombs”. Public Committee Against Torture in Israel/ Physicians for Human Rights Israel. 2007. http:www.
3. Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim: the Involvement of Medical Professionals in Torture and Ill-treatment in Israel. Public Committee Against Torture in Israel/ Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. 2011.
4. Adameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Adameer collects hard evidence on torture and ill-treatment committed against Palestinian detainees. 2019.

Competing interests: Founder of Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

11 February 2020
Ruchama Marton
Tel Aviv