Letters WMA and Iran

The WMA speaks out on Iran but not on Israel. Why not?

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b4635 (Published 10 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4635

BMA support for the IMA re issue of medical complicity with torture

In his rapid response of 18 Jan, Dr Chris Burns-Cox challenged the
BMA to say whether they had done anything about the evidence-based
allegations of medical complicity with torture in Israel to which their
attention had been frequently drawn over the years, given that the BMA and
the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) are fellow members of the World
Medical Association (WMA). The WMA is the official international watchdog
on medical ethics. Dr Burns-Cox noted that Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA
Director of Professional Activities, had described Amnesty reports of
medical complicity in Israel as ‘credible’.

In her rapid response of 21 Jan, Dr Nathanson writes that “as a
result of these concerns the BMA wrote directly to the President of the
IMA requesting information about the accuracy of these reports and the
nature of the IMA’s response. The IMA made available to the BMA extensive
correspondence from the IMA to the Israeli defence forces raising concerns
about allegations and requesting appropriate responses.” This
correspondenceappears to have satisfied the BMA as to the IMA’s bona

Dr Nathanson told Dr Burns-Cox when they met that this correspondence
would be made available to outside parties. Dr Burns Cox was sent copies
and I have seen them too. They are purportedly English translations of the
Hebrew originals. The text of18 or so letters covering the period 2002-9
is provided, mostly from the IMA President to military authorities. Some
of them query particular incidents: Palestinian ambulances detained at
checkpoints, a doctor beaten up by soldiers on the way to work, a patient
refused treatment at an Israeli hospital etc. But as Dr Burns-Cox says in
his further response (28 Jan), the overall impression is that this isvery
unconvincing material, having the appearance of a collection of form
letters. There is no evidence here of real intent, of effective challenge
and follow-up on any particular issue. There is indeed not a single word
of clear-cut condemnation of any Israeli Defence Force action. Where
condemnation is expressed, it is reserved for the Palestinian side, even
if unjust: a letter from the IMA President to someone in Germany in March
2009 stated that “we find it incomprehensible that Hamas is using homes,
schools, ambulances and children as shields and using mosques as
warehouses for ammunitions and as spots from which to launch missiles and
rockets at Israeli cities”. Such allegations were widely made in Israel in
defence of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza one year ago, but have not been
borne out in subsequent enquiries.

But my main point is that there is not a single IMA letter whose
subject matter relates to the case in point, which is medical complicity
with torture. How then can this dossier possibly satisfy the BMA and be a
counter to ‘credible’ Amnesty reports incriminating Israeli doctors and
the IMA?

Competing interests:
18 years involvement with human rights/medical ethics in Israel-Palestine

Competing interests: No competing interests

31 January 2010
derek a summerfield
Hon Sen Lect, Institute of Psychiatry, London
Maudsley Hospital, SE5 8BB