Israeli Doctors Colluding in Torture . . . While World’s Medical Ethics Chief Turns Blind Eye

Nazareth — Israel’s watchdog body on medical ethics has failed to investigate evidence that doctors working in detention facilities are turning a blind eye to cases of torture, according to Israeli human rights groups.

The Israeli Medical Association (IMA) has ignored repeated requests to examine such evidence, the rights groups say, even though it has been presented with examples of Israeli doctors who have broken their legal and ethical duty towards Palestinians in their care.

The accusations will add fuel to a campaign backed by hundreds of doctors from around the world to force Yoram Blachar, who heads the IMA, to step down from his recent appointment as president of the World Medical Association (WMA).

More than 700 doctors have signed a petition arguing that Dr. Blachar has disqualified himself from leadership of the WMA, the profession’s governing ethical body, by effectively condoning torture in Israel.

The campaign against Dr. Blachar has gained ground rapidly since his appointment as president in November. Critics said his alleged complicity in the use of torture in Israeli detention facilities could be traced to 1995, when he became chairman of the IMA.

Until 1999, when Israel’s Supreme Court restricted torture, Israeli doctors routinely supervised the medical treatment of abused detainees, mostly Palestinians from the occupied territories.

During that period Dr. Blachar surprised many colleagues by expressing support for Israeli interrogators’ use of “moderate physical pressure” in a letter to The Lancet, the British medical journal. The phrase covers a wide range of practices from beatings and binding prisoners in painful positions to sleep deprivation. It is regarded by human rights organizations as a euphemism for torture.

Despite the 1999 court ruling, a coalition of 14 Israeli human rights groups known as United Against Torture concluded in its latest annual report in November that Israeli detention facilities are still using torture systematically. Israeli doctors are also being relied on to treat the resulting injuries.

Last week, Physicians for Human Rights and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel published a joint report examining hundreds of arrests in which Palestinians were bound in “distorted and unnatural” ways to inflict “pain and humiliation” amounting to torture.

The report noted instances where prisoners, including a pregnant woman and a dying man, were shackled while doctors carried out emergency procedures in a hospital.

According to the report, the doctors violated the Tokyo Declaration, the key code of medical ethics adopted by the WMA in 1975 that bans the use of cruel, humiliating or inhuman treatment by physicians.

Ishai Menuchin, the head of the Public Committee, said his group had been lobbying strenuously against Israeli doctors’ complicity in torture since it issued a report, Ticking Bombs, in 2007, arguing that torture was routine in Israel.

The Public Committee highlighted the testimonies of nine Palestinians who had been tortured by interrogators. The report also noted that in most cases Israeli physicians treating detainees “return their patients to additional rounds of torture, and remain silent”.

In June last year, Physicians for Human Rights drew the IMA’s attention to two cases in which the attending doctor failed to report signs of torture on a Palestinian.

Anat Litvin of Physicians for Human Rights told the IMA: “We believe that doctors are used by torturers as a safety net — take them out of the system and torture will be much more difficult to enact.”

The groups stepped up their pressure in February, writing to Avinoam Reches, the chairman of the IMA’s ethics committee. They demanded that his association investigate six cases of doctors who failed to report signs of torture.

In one case, a prison doctor, under pressure from interrogators, agreed to retract a written recommendation that a detainee be immediately hospitalized for treatment.

Prof. Reches promised to conduct an inquiry. However, last month the two human rights groups criticized him for failing to investigate their claims, accusing him of holding only “amicable and unofficial” conversations over the phone with a few of the doctors concerned.

“We have sent to the IMA many testimonies from victims of torture who were referred to doctors for treatment,” Dr. Menuchin said. “But the IMA has yet to do anything about it.

“A significant number of doctors in Israel, in detention facilities and public hospitals, know torture is taking place, but choose to avert their gaze.”

This month, Defense for Children International issued a report on the torture of Palestinian children, noting that in several of the cases it cited, Israeli doctors had turned a blind eye. A boy of 14 who was beaten repeatedly on a broken arm reported the abuse to a doctor who, he said, replied only: “I had nothing to do with that.”

The report stated that the group “has not encountered a single case where an adult in a position of authority, such as a soldier, doctor, judicial officer or prison staff, has intervened on behalf of a child who was mistreated.”

Campaigners against Dr. Blachar’s appointment as the head of the WMA say its Israeli sister association’s inaction on torture is unsurprising given its chairman’s public stance.

Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “The IMA under Dr. Blachar is in collusion with the Israeli state policy of torture. Its role is to put a benign face on the occupation.”

Dr. Blachar told the Israeli website Ynet last week that such criticisms were “slanderous”, saying he and the IMA denounced all forms of torture.

The WMA, with nine million members in more than 80 countries, was established in 1947 as a response to the abuses sanctioned by German and Japanese doctors during the Second World War.

In 2007, the WMA’s general assembly called on doctors to document and report all cases of suspected torture.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 1st, 2009 at 3:34am #

    Who can be surprised? The bad eggs amongst the Jews are pretty bad, although they are not the entire clutch. We just have to go on stating the bleeding obvious-that being a Jew does not put one outside basic human decency, and criticism and justice when one commits atrocities. For doing so we are certain to be vilified as bigots ourselves, a repulsive sleight of hand and inversion of reality that is a Zionasty speciality.

  2. opeluboy said on July 1st, 2009 at 3:03pm #

    Dr. Mengele?

  3. kalidas said on July 1st, 2009 at 5:50pm #

    Yes, but what was it (they) before it was a “Zionist” speciality?
    Zionism/Zionist is just the latest and newest miasmic morphing of what is essentially an inherent demonic propensity.

  4. B99 said on July 2nd, 2009 at 8:03am #

    I think it is possible to be too sensitive about Jewish sensibilities regarding ethnic nomenclature. It seems that instead of using the term ‘Jews’ we say ‘Israelis’ (despite Israel being one-quarter non-Jewish) or ‘Zionists’ (despite the fact that Jews in Israel and abroad overwhelmingly subscribe to zionism either passively or actively). This is not to say that Jews – whether zionist or not – have no misgivings about that ideology – but it is to say that as a generalization, to refer to Jews (instead of Israelis, or Zionists) is largely correct. The vast majority of Jews in the US either back Israel explicitly or at least put Israel’s comfort well-above basic human rights for Palestinians. Many do this through silence – even as they voice progressive opinions on say, Tibet, or Darfur, or the status of minorities in the US.

    In contrast, very few of us have such sensitivity regarding the usage of the term ‘Palestinian.’ We do not (pretty much never) go to any length to differentiate ‘bad’ Palestinians from ‘good’ ones or nationalist Palestinians from fundamentalist Palestinians. We glibly say, “Palestinians know this’ or Palestinians did that.’ In fact, I think it is safe to say that among all human ethnicities, only with regard to Jews are we extra careful not to tread on any toes. All this while many Jews will not refer to Palestinians as anything other than ‘Arab.’
    So I think the situation begs for some symmetry. This is not to say that it is never appropriate to refer to Israel or Israeli-Jews or Zionists. It is just to say that we needn’t apologize for using the term ‘Jews’ – it parallels the usage for other cultural groups.

    As for the content of the article – it is useful information, but not surprising. Yet let’s not excuse it as ‘demonic’ or ‘inherent.’ It is, I think, pathological and ideological – but has no genetic or other-worldly component.

  5. bozh said on July 2nd, 2009 at 11:01am #

    various ethnoses speak arabic. However, a syrian is not a maroccan, libian, egyptian, jordanian, iraqi.
    so far as i cam make out, ‘jews’ call all this different ethnicities “arabs” for only one reason: to alert the world how tiny israel is and how huge is panarabia.

    canada is huge but wld not ever allow a ‘jewish’ state on its soil. In canada, ‘jews cld have obtained; let’s say, yukon, which is much larger than palestine.
    ‘jews’ wld be much safer in yukon, montana, nevada. But we all know that ‘zionists’ cld have not gotten that many euros to settle in yukon.
    ‘zionists’ never wanted safety or peace for the naive ‘jews’ . They wanted them to be in constant war and fear for that is what unites a people or peoples like ‘jews’ more than anything else.

    and every israeli is justified in being in mortal fear. However, this too will end.
    the alliest used to deplore the fact south slavic people, being one people, cld not live together. However, it held its view only as long as yugoslavia was onside.

    now the entire west is using same strategem in ‘lamenting’ the fact that arabs can’t get along.
    meanwhile, forgetting entirely that germanic peoples did not get along as well.
    there was two hundred-year wars in which partly germanic peoples of of france [franks] and anglosaxons were involved.
    then there was napoleon wars, franco-prussian war and so on.
    tnx bozhidar balkas vancouver

  6. kalidas said on July 2nd, 2009 at 11:36am #

    “As for the content of the article – it is useful information, but not surprising. Yet let’s not excuse it as ‘demonic’ or ‘inherent.’ It is, I think, pathological and ideological – but has no genetic or other-worldly component.”

    Perhaps there “are more things in heaven and earth…”

  7. Shabnam said on July 2nd, 2009 at 12:41pm #

    She didn’t mean to boycott when she said she will boycott Israel. “The decision isn’t to boycott Israel but rather to oppose official relationships with Israel institutions” Noami Klein said.
    “There is a debate among Jews – I’m a Jew by the way,” she said. The debate boils down to the question: “Never again to everyone, or never again to us?… [Some Jews] even think we get one get-away-with-genocide-free card…There is another strain in the Jewish tradition that say, ‘Never again to anyone.”
    “It’s true that some academics won’t agree to accept an article by an Israeli for publication in a journal. There aren’t many of them, and they make stupid decisions. This is not what the boycott committee has called for. The decision isn’t to boycott Israel but rather to oppose official relationships with Israeli institutions.”

  8. kalidas said on July 2nd, 2009 at 1:36pm #

    And then the intellectual elites all had their cake and ate it too..

  9. B99 said on July 21st, 2009 at 6:54am #

    Bozh – Libyan, Moroccan, Syrian, etc. are not ethnicities in their home countries – they are nationalities. An ethnicity is a cohesive (more or less) cultural group that is a minority in a country. Jews are an ethnic group in the US. So are Lebanese in the US. There really is no ‘Arab’ ethnic group unless people identify as such (over previous designations such as Lebanese, etc.). Of course, that could happen – just as various peoples in the US from Spanish-speaking countries might adopt an all encompassing ‘Latino’ designation. But unlikely. Anyway, the term “Arab” is used to disparage Palestinians – so as to make the threat to Israel that of 200 million Arabs bent on driving the Jews into the sea– far better as propaganda than admitting the enemy is a few million unarmed Palestinian peasants and town-dwellers.

    And yes, it was a particular strategy of the Israeli rulers to keep its Jews in a perpetual state of war – or perpetual fear of being attacked. That kept – and keeps – the nation on a war footing. Of course, it makes them racist, but clearly their leadership has no problem with that.