Israeli Physicians Complicit in Apartheid System of Human Rights Abuses

O.A., 25, a Palestinian from the village of al-Maasara, a day after his release by Israeli forces on 23 March 2010. He had been arrested and beaten for several hours. (Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

(UPDATE 20 July 2012): The PACBI is asking the  World Psychiatric Association – Transcultural Psychiatry Section (WPA-TPS) to change the location of its 1st International Conference on Cultural Psychiatry in Mediterranean Countries, which is planned to take place in Israel in November 2012.  See  World Psychiatric Association: Enabling Israeli Apartheid?  at

How do physicians treat their patients in Israel?  What if you are imprisoned in Israel for political reasons?  Would you have the right to expect fair unbiased treatment from a doctor, who was examining you after you had been put through torture?  The following report is a wake up call to the realities of what is happening today in Israel.  Medical professionals from the international community should be interested in this aspect of Israel’s system that creates very dismal outcomes for patients.  

The English translation of the 60 page report “Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim – The involvement of medical professionals in torture and ill treatment in Israel”  is now available online.

The report asserts what we all know to be true, that it is a doctor’s duty to actively oppose torture they have witnessed:

 “Our experience on this matter is unequivocal: medical professionals are indeed among those working for the authorities who interact with prisoners and take .part in what goes on in the prison system and the interrogation rooms Medical professionals abandon their duty by failing to document and report torture; by passing on medical information to interrogators; returning interrogees to the custody of their interrogators when in danger of being exposed to further torture or ill-treatment; and in extreme cases, by taking an active part in the interrogation. Because of their unique social status, the presence of medical professionals in facilities where torture or ill-treatment are carried out indicates the boundary between the permissible and the impermissible; it grants ISA interrogators a stamp of approval, whether explicit or tacit, that .their conduct is acceptable Such behavior by doctors has far-reaching consequences for the victims of torture or ill-treatment: not only do medical professionals fail to serve as effective recourse for victim’s complaints of injuries inflicted upon them by their interrogators or other authorities; their conduct furthermore precludes the victim from presenting evidence which can aid in pursuing justice through various legal and administrative proceedings.” (p. 54 ‘Summary and Conclusions”)


The findings show that Israeli medical professionals are often silent in the face of injuries and wounds which they detect or which victims who have been interrogated report to them.  In many instances they fail to fulfill their obligation as professionals to fully document physical and psychological harm experienced by the victim of torture or ill-treatment.
Doctors are obligated to do everything in their power to ensure that their patient (political  prisoner or otherwise) who has been subjected to torture or ill-treatment not be returned to a place where torture may recur.
Unfortunately, according to the evidence in the report, not only do these Israeli doctors not document or report the torture their assigned patients have suffered, they actually return the victim to the hands of the torturers, often after half heartedly treating or documenting the torture or ill-treatment – sometimes without even this.
The central document relating to the prohibition against doctors’ participation in torture or ill-treatment is the World Medical Association’sTokyo Declaration (1975), which states



1. The physician shall not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures, whatever the offense of which the victim of such procedures is suspected, accused or guilty, and whatever the victim’s beliefs or motives, and in all situations, including armed conflict and civil strife.


2. The physician shall not provide any premises, instruments, substances or knowledge to facilitate the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or to diminish the ability of the victim to resist such treatment.


3. When providing medical assistance to detainees or prisoners who are, or who could later be, under interrogation, physicians should be particularly careful to ensure the confidentiality of all personal medical information. A breach of the Geneva Conventions shall in any case be reported by the physician to relevant authorities.


The physician shall not use nor allow to be used, as far as he or she can, medical knowledge or skills, or health information specific to individuals, to facilitate or otherwise aid any interrogation, legal or illegal, of those individuals.

4. The physician shall not be present during any procedure during which torture or any other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is used or threatened.

5. A physician must have complete clinical independence in deciding upon the care of a person for whom he or she is medically responsible. The physician’s fundamental role is to alleviate the distress of his or her fellow human beings, and no motive, whether personal, collective or political, shall prevail against this higher purpose.

6. Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially. The decision as to the capacity of the prisoner to form such a judgment should be confirmed by at least one other independent physician. The consequences of the refusal of nourishment shall be explained by the physician to the prisoner.

7. The World Medical Association will support, and should encourage the international community, the National Medical Associations and fellow physicians to support, the physician and his or her family in the face of threats or reprisals resulting from a refusal to condone the use of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Documentation was obtained showing negligence on the part of the physician in the following case but the majority of violations by physicians go unreported.
J.M., born 1980, from Jenin, was arrested on 22.4.10. His affidavit testifies to widespread violence at the time of his arrest. Soldiers broke into his bedroom and began to beat him, using their guns. One of the soldiers seized his arm so violently that his shoulder was dislocated. J.M. lost consciousness and woke to find himself in a clinic; where, he did not know. According to his affidavit, he was then transferred to Kishon Detention Center, brought to the clinic there and told the doctors what had happened to him. In his medical file, under the title “Initial Absorption”, the detention center doctor noted that J.M. suffered from pain in the right shoulder. Yet there is documentation neither of his having been unconscious at this or any other clinic, nor of his claims of soldier violence.

The subject of torture in Israeli prisons is well known.  A google search yields over 23,000,000 results.  It is time for physicians of conscience to hold Israeli physicians accountable.  Women and children are not exempt from torture.  An alarming investigation by the Electronic Intifada in July of 2011 shows how Palestinian children are tortured:

Sleep-deprived and suffering from a broken leg, 16-year-old M.H. endured days of torture at the hands of Israeli soldiers and police officers, who punched him repeatedly in the face and abdomen, shoved needles into his hand and leg and threatened the Palestinian teenager with sexual abuse.

Addameer’s Sahar Francis told the EI:

“It’s very hard to say that you can reach justice in this [Israeli military court] system. And the case of M.H. (above)  is a very good example to see how the court always believes the soldiers and the police officers who collect the confessions and don’t trust what the detainees have to say,” “Most of the cases, even if you exhaust the whole procedures, wouldn’t end up in favor of the detainees,” she added. “We can say that there’s more than 95 percent of conviction at the end, whether it’s through plea bargains or exhausting the system. Most of the prisoners prefer plea bargains because they don’t trust the system. Why waste the time and put all these efforts?”
“The solution for this is ending the occupation, putting an end to the occupation, which means Israel is not allowed to arrest Palestinians and prosecute them in their military courts. And they are then supposed to release all the Palestinian political prisoners from the Israeli prisons, where they are held illegally,”
“What’s very important is to put an end to this impunity when it comes to torture of Palestinian political prisoners. This is a big demand of the Palestinian human rights NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], [and] the international community should find a way to put an end to the Israeli immunity in torture and not just in torture but all of the other violations of international law.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s