By CAMERA fellow Hayeem Rudy
Since the beginning of the Syrian War, the Ziv Medical Center, located in the Golan Heights, along with several state-of-the-art Israeli field hospitals, have been set up in order to provide emergency medical aid to critically wounded Syrians. To date, the Israeli government has allocated over 10 million dollars to these areas to treat some 900 non-Israeli patients in this region. One of the most intriguing, even bizarre, aspects of these medical centers is that they intentionally seek to minimize the evidence of their life-saving work. The painstaking effort they exert to accomplish the concealment of their healing is done in order to protect the Syrian refugees from their own friends and communities back in Syria, who would potentially threaten those who associated with “the Zionist enemy” upon their return home. As Col. Tariff Bader, Senior Medical Officer of the IDF Northern Command, puts it, “the IDF takes painstaking measures to remove any indication that the [Syrian refugees] received care in Israel.”
Despite these lengths that the Israeli military and healthcare professionals go to in order to care for citizens from former and current adversaries, critics of Israel often point to Israel as an “apartheid state”. They say that its social institutions are reminiscent of the racist and segregated society in which Black South Africans were oppressed and marginalized for much of latter half of the 20th century. If analyzing medicine and healthcare in a society acts as a decent barometer for assessing that culture’s values and principles, then these Israeli medical institutions determine that it is far from an apartheid state.
With that in mind, let us momentarily move further south from the Israeli-Syrian border to the West Bank and Gaza. During Operation Protective Edge this past summer, the IDF oversaw the creation of another state-of-the-art field hospital at the Erez Crossing—Gaza’s only pedestrian gateway into Israel. The intended purpose of this field hospital was clear: “The hospital started as an initiative to first give assistance and humanitarian aid to Palestinians injured since the beginning of the operation [in Gaza],” said Major Guy Inbar, spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Indeed, several hundred injured and needy Gazan civilians received medical treatment at this facility over the summer. In the West Bank, too, Israeli officials are ramping up efforts to provide free medical aid to Palestinians. A rarely spoken-about, but nonetheless significant, relationship exists between the Israeli Health Department of the Civil Administration and the Palestinian Ministry of Health that allows hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to travel into Israel for free to receive world-class medical care in Israeli hospitals. Recent figures show that this program is growing in Israel. In 2008, 144,838 Palestinians entered into Israel for medical treatment. In 2011, that number grew to 197,713 Palestinians, and in 2012 to 219,464 Palestinians, according to a report published by COGAT.
But here’s another question: what about hospitals in Palestinian-controlled territories? Unfortunately, Hamas operatives stored caches of weapons in Sheifa and Waffa Hospitals in Gaza City this past summer. We also saw videos circulating this past summer which showed Hamas militants intentionally using Red Crescent (Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross) and United Nations ambulances as shields for transportation and protection from Israeli attacks during Operation Protective Edge. Consider also that Hamas militants intentionally targeted the Erez Crossing field hospital with mortar strikes from the Gaza border, and threatened Gazans not to seek treatment there, regardless of the cost to their health. Lastly, contemplate the fact that in both the West Bank and Gaza, the majority of Palestinians prefer a one-state vision of Palestine, “from the river [Jordan] to the sea [Mediterranean],” (55.4% to 68.4 percent, respectively) according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And yet, Israel persists in treating these individuals who would wish to see the country’s destruction.
The moral distinctions between Israel and its enemies remain clear, but even in its own right, Israel stands as a bastion of decency and goodness. In the realm of medical ethics, doctors understand their roles as caregivers as distinct from being the arbiters of health. This principle is well understood in the healthcare industry, but especially in Israel. I personally encountered this idea when I trained to become a licensed EMT for Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s national emergency medical service. My teacher during this training period, a seasoned Magen David Adom paramedic, imprinted upon our volunteer group this important ethic in medicine by introducing us to a hypothetical scenario in which we, as medics, were asked to contemplate the moral and ethical grounds for saving the life of an injured terrorist in a suicide bombing attack. (It so happens that my teacher was the on-call MDA dispatcher during the Merkaz Harav Massacre in 2008, and she had first-hand experienced with scenarios like this hypothetical one in the past). We broke down the arguments in a group discussion, and after contentious debate, were forced to acknowledge that one was indeed ethically bound to save the life of the terrorist.
In adhering to this ethic and so many others within the field of medicine, it becomes increasingly clear that Israeli society is moral, compassionate, and peaceful. Israel has gone above and beyond the call for ethical practice in healthcare, and has provided lifesaving medical treatment for two members of the immediate family of Isma’el Haniyeh, the Senior Political Leader of Hamas, as well as for the sister of Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas Senior Official and spokesperson for the terrorist group. Both of these individuals have extolled the virtues of killing innocent Israeli civilians and endorse the racist and genocidal principles of Islamic Jihad. Even more recently, this month, Israeli doctors at the Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem treated the Hamas terrorist Abed Abdelrahman Shaludeh who intentionally accelerated his vehicle into a crowd of innocent pedestrians at a light rail station in Jerusalem, killing two, including a 3 month-old American-Israeli girl, and injuring several more. What society but the most ethical and moral would support the healing of this reprehensible murderer? And yet, to Israeli citizens, this idea of repressing anger, frustration, fear, and hopelessness for the sake of the decency is not out of the norm. Indeed, millions of Israeli taxpayers’ shekels are directed towards supporting institutions that treat hundreds of thousands of Palestinians each year, the majority of whom would wish to see Israel wiped off the map.
Today, all around the world, anti-Israel activists call Israel an apartheid state. They say that “Israelis oppress the Palestinians” and that they are not interested in peace. Yet, if medical institutions are a decent proxy for understanding the values of a society, then we must compare the culture of healthcare in Israel and in apartheid-era South Africa in order to gauge whether Israel truly is an apartheid state. Under apartheid in South Africa, there were segregated white and black hospital facilities, and the black wards were always underfunded, overcrowded, and understaffed. In Israeli medical institutions, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs work side by side towards delivering free, world-class healthcare for Palestinians, even during times of conflict and war. Under apartheid-era South Africa, those who spoke out against the institution were imprisoned and their supporters were silenced. In Israel, the family members of individuals who call for the murder of Israeli civilians who incite genocidal violence are invited to receive world-class medical treatment in Tel Aviv. In apartheid-era South Africa, black activists who rioted and protested against the racist regime were struck down, beaten, and sometimes killed. In Israel, terrorists who murder innocent civilians with automobiles can count on ethically bound teams of healthcare professionals to provide lifesaving medical care. Thus, even by the most basic analysis of the healthcare institutions in Israel, it becomes ever so obvious that Israel is far from being an apartheid state. Perhaps those who make this claim don’t know these facts. Perhaps they do. In either case, making such a claim can only be described as being socially irresponsible and seriously misguided.