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Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions? No

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39266.509016.AD (Published 19 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:125

The threatened academic boycott of Israel and the accusation that the Israel Medical association (IMA) is complicit in the torture of prisoners.

One of the ugliest consequences of the debate on the threatened
academic boycott of Israel was to provide another opportunity for Dr Derek
Summerfield to repeat his libel that the IMA is complicit in the torture
of Palestinian detainees. My initial response and that of the IMA were
insufficient to convince a number of your readers and the latest posting
(14th September) from a Doctor Brian Robinson stated; “Prof Baum has still
not provided independent evidence to justify his exoneration of the
Israeli Med Assoc: does it exist?” In addition I have received several
hate filled e mails implying that our silence could be interpreted as
guilt.

It is of course easy to make accusations but it takes time to collect the
evidence to refute these allegations. I alerted the editor of the BMJ that
I was working with the IMA to produce a once and for all statement that
the IMA is not an arm of the Israeli government or the Israel Defence
Force (IDF) and is not complicit in the torture of prisoners. I’m now
happy to post it on their behalf. It has to be remembered that it is
impossible to prove a negative. For example no one could prove that
British doctors, members of the BMA, have never been involved in the
torture of IRA prisoners during the Irish troubles or in the present war
against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I have
reasonable hope that the open minded and uncommitted of the readership
will accept that the IMA is not involved in torture and takes its
responsibility for the health and welfare of both Palestinian and Israeli
Arabs very seriously. In
the end peace can only emerge from the tentative journey from hate and
fear, to mutual respect, trust and eventually to reconciliation.

Yours Sincerely,

Michael Baum

Response from the Israel Medical Association (IMA) to Derek
Summerfield in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)

We have been asked to refute the allegations and so-called “evidence”
produced by Derek Summerfield in his never-ending campaign against Israel.
Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to refute baseless allegations.

The burden of proof should be on Summerfield to prove that his “facts” are
true, and not on Prof Baum or the IMA to prove that they are not. I am
curious to know what evidence Summerfield himself would provide to prove
he is not involved in torture if we had accused him of being so.

Nonetheless, as our silence is erroneously interpreted as admission,
we will address some of the points raised by Summerfield in his most
recent letter to the BMJ (Response and challenge to Professor Baum: what
counts as evidence? BMJ 335 (7611) 125).

The first source Summerfield brings is a quote by Amnesty
International that Israeli doctors working with the security services
“form 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.” This statement is a blanket allegation without any proof
attached. How can one hope to refute such allegations? One can show Dr
Summerfield thousands of Israeli doctors whose ethical standards are above
impeachment and who are no in no way involved in anything that can be
construed as torture. Yet neither he, nor anyone else, has, despite
repeated entreaties on our part to do so, provided us with the name of one
doctor involved in torture in order that we might properly investigate the
allegations.

Summerfield states that Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI)
reported in 2003 that since 1992 they had been attempting to get the IMA
to join their opposition to torture, but in vain. I can state with
certainty that the IMA has always opposed torture, and, in addition, in
the last several years, we have worked hand in hand with PHRI on various
issues. In a recent three month period, ten letters went out to various
officials and bodies in the army, government etc. after we received
potentially problematic information from PHRI. Summerfield further claims
that “Amnesty told me in the 1990s that they too had made various
approaches to the IMA on this account and had always been rebuffed.”
Unfortunately, no one at the IMA has any idea to what approaches he or
they are referring.

Summerfield slams Prof. Baum for using the statements of Dr Blachar
as evidence against his claim that the IMA is complicit in the ill-
treatment of prisoners. And yet he cavalierly asserts that “Torture
continues to state policy in Israel” by relying on a Btselem report (an
organization that can not be called neutral in their allegiances) that
cites testimonies of 73 Palestinian detainees to “confirm that almost all
Palestinian detainees suffer physical and mental abuse amounting to
torture.”

Summerfield continues to make unequivocal and uncorroborated
statements such as “Palestinian health professionals are regularly shot
dead or wounded on duty.” He also notes that health workers in
ambulances are questioned and searched, people are detained at checkpoints
and the security barrier has negatively affected coherence in the primary
health system, statements which are likely true. Unfortunately, we are
well aware of the difficult living conditions in which the Palestinian
population finds itself. As long as terrorists continue to infiltrate
from the Palestinian territories, the roadblocks are regrettably a
security necessity. Further, ambulances and ill patients have abused the
system in attempts to commit terrorist attacks, such as the 2005 case of
Wafa al-Bas who took advantage of a humanitarian medical clearance granted
to her by Israel to attempt a suicide bombing at Israel’s Soroka Hospital,
the very hospital in which she was hospitalized for over a month early
this year while doctors worked tirelessly to save her life, after she was
severely burned in an accident at home.

In addition, ambulances have been used on more than occasion to
transport terrorist or explosives. For instance, on March 26 2002, Ahmed
Jibril, a Tanzim operative and ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red
Crescent (PRC) was arrested while driving an ambulance belonging to the
PRC in which were found an explosives belt and explosives under the
stretcher on which lay a sick Palestinian child. Nidal Abd al Fatah
Abdallah Nidal, an ambulance driver from Qalqilya employed by UNWRA,
admitted to using the ambulance to transport weapons and explosives for
Hammas. And Waffa Idris, a PRC employee, perpetrated the suicide bombing
on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem in January 2002. She was dispatched by a PRC
ambulance driver who is also a Tanzim operative, and she was assisted by
another PRC employee. It is also believed she may have traveled in a PRC
vehicle, and used PRC documents to go through IDF checkpoints.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents.

Summerfield notes that “PHRI accused the IMA of basically being an
arm of the political establishment.” However, neither he nor PHRI has
provided any reason or evidence to support such an absurd claim.

Unfortunately, I can not address, nor do I want to, all the usual
rants made by Derek Summerfield, and his reliance on such known
“politically neutral” bodies and figures such as Amnesty International,
Btselem, Edward Said and Noam Chomsky to support his positions.
Summerfield also takes issue with the fact that the WMA and the BMA have
repeatedly refused to condemn the IMA and oppose an academic boycott
against Israel. Does he feel that they, too, are an arm of the Israeli
political establishment or perhaps there are unbiased, rational people who
see things differently from him?

Although, we do not feel the need to defend ourselves against the
likes of Dr Summerfield, we will nonetheless cite a few examples of
actions taken by the IMA and Israeli doctors in an effort to alleviate the
difficult situation of Palestinian civilians:

1. 2,346 Palestinian children with birth defects were treated last
year in Israeli hospitals (up from 1,604 in 2005), 29, 919 Palestinian
patients were granted permits to undergo medical treatments in hospitals
in Israel (up from 24,076 in 2005), and 1,600 Palestinian emergency
patients were transferred by ambulance from the PA to hospitals in Israel
(up from 800 in 2005).

2. IMA has intervened in cases where a Palestinian patient was to be
evicted from an Israeli hospital due to lack of funds. For example, in
one instance a patient was to be evicted from a Tel Aviv hospital because
no money was forthcoming from the PA; IMA chair of ethics convinced the
hospital to waive the charges if money was not received from the PA.

3. IMA has intervened, including petitions to the High Court of Justice,
in situations where Palestinian patients, physicians or medical students
encountered difficulties at Israeli checkpoints. Two examples: Joint IMA
-PHR petition to HCJ regarding patients in need of life saving treatment
(a settlement was reached in this case) and another regarding an entry
permit for an AIDS patient (in this case, the petition was dismissed when
the court found that there was a legitimate security interest in
disallowing his entry).

4. The IMA has called for funds to be transferred to the PA in the form of
food and medicine so that help could be given where it is truly needed,
including a letter to the Minister of Health to see what the government is
doing to prevent a shortage of medicine and medical supplies to the
Palestinian territories.

5. The IMA has, at several points in the past, attempted to meet with its
Palestinian counterparts in an effort to foster mutual cooperation and
better understanding, including the release of a joint statement. Almost
none of these meetings have taken place, because of refusal on the
Palestinian side.

6. IMA has issued ethical statements regarding imprisonment in hospitals
and has intervened where necessary.

7. IMA attempted to assist Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem gain
recognition by the Council for Higher Education.

8. IMA issued a recent appeal to Israel Railways Authority regarding the
unnecessary detention/discrimination by railway authorities of two Arab
physicians.

9. IMA established a hotline for Arab physicians wishing to complain of
discrimination at airport and action taken on their behalf.

Although we are an apolitical organization, we certainly do speak out
on behalf of the assurance of proper health services for the Palestinian
population. I attach a sample letter (Appendix A) in this regard.
Regarding Gaza in particular, I would remind you that Israel withdrew from
the Gaza strip two years ago, in accordance with Palestinian wishes and at
great economic and emotional expense to its own population, many of whom
find themselves without jobs, homes or stability to this day. It is
therefore incumbent upon the Palestinian leadership to ensure the health
care services of its population there. Nonetheless, in cases where
necessary health care was unavailable in either Gaza or the West Bank,
Israel has frequently taken it upon itself to provide these services,
often at its own expense.

Regarding the issue of torture: we will once again-hopefully for the
final time- unequivocally state that we completely oppose the involvement
of physicians in anything that can be construed as torture. The IMA has
taken a public stand against torture in various forums, in letters to the
BMJ and as a signatory to the Tokyo Declaration. I attach a sample letter
(Appendix B) we have recently written on this matter to Mr. Yuval Diskin,
head of the Israel Security Agency (ISA). We also recently addressed this
issue in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where we stated our position
that doctors employed by the ISA or security services and involved in the
questioning of Palestinian detainees or prisoners are absolutely forbidden
to take part or assist in any way in questioning that is accompanied by
torture. (July 3, 2007). Finally, we have been working for the last
several months to incorporate a translation (done by PHRI) of the
Norwegian Medical Association/World Medical Association course on “Doctors
working in prisons: human rights and ethical dilemmas”; this course was
recently made available to Israeli doctors.

Summerfield interprets the silence of Baum and the IMA as an
admission of guilt. In actuality, it derives not from guilt but from an
intense weariness of having to respond time and time again to baseless
attacks from someone with a very clear agenda. Summerfield expects self-flagellation on our parts for wanting to live in peace, to protect our
children from attack, for trying to balance security needs with the very
real and pressing need to assure proper health services for all, Israeli
and Palestinian. But for that we can not, and will not, apologize.

Malke Borow, JD


Manager, Division of Law and Policy


Israel Medical Association

Appendix A

July 12, 2006

To: Maj.-Gen. Joseph Mishlav, Coordinator of activities in the
Territories

Brig.-Gen. Yechezkel Levi, Chief Medical Officer

Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelbeit, Chief Military Prosecutor

Re: Invitation to a meeting regarding the health status in the
territories-promoting cooperation between the IMA and relevant bodies

The IMA has been repeatedly approached by both local and foreign
organizations regarding the status of the civilian population in the West
Bank and Gaza.

It goes without saying that we do not address political or security
issues; nonetheless, we are sure that you share our belief that we must do
everything in our power to preserve an acceptable level of health even
during armed conflict and to concern ourselves with the essential
humanitarian needs of the civilian population.

The IMA is interested in trying to advance fruitful cooperation with
you, in order to improve the channels of communication and activity
between us, to understand the scope of inquiries you receive and to see
how the IMA can take part in medical and humanitarian aid to the civilian
population during this difficult period.

Therefore, we would kindly request a joint meeting.

We will be in touch within the next few days in order to schedule
such a meeting and hope you will positively answer our request.

Sincerely,

Dr. Yoram Blachar

President

Israeli Medical Association

(Translated from the Hebrew)

Appendix B

July 12, þ2007

To:

Mr. Yuval Diskin

Head of the Israel Security Agency

Re: Reports of B’tselem and the Center for the Protection of the
Individual on the matter of torture and abuse of Palestinian detainees-
implications for medical personnel working in interrogation centers

We would appreciate your response to the enclosed letter, which was
forwarded to us yesterday.

It appears from the letter that the report in question allegedly
raises suspicion that the ISA still uses physical and emotional measures
that can be defined as torture.

We would note that the position of the IMA on this matter remains as
it always was, namely that it is absolutely forbidden for doctors employed
by the ISA or security services and involved in the questioning of
Palestinian detainees or prisoners are absolutely forbidden to take part
or assist in any way in questioning that is accompanied by torture.

We, too, would like to receive answers to the questions posed in the
letter of Physicians for Human Rights, and would appreciate a response at
your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Dr. Yoram Blachar

President

Israeli Medical Association

(Translated from the Hebrew)

Competing interests:
I wrote the opposing piece in the debate

Competing interests: No competing interests

04 October 2007
Michael Baum
Professor of Surgery
University College LondonLondon W1N 6AH