[News] Israeli Doctors Collude in Torture

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 30 12:40:01 EDT 2009

Israeli Doctors Collude in Torture



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, so Israeli human rights groups charge.

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 can 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 organisations 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 cited 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 is a writer and journalist based in 
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and 
the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” 
(Zed Books). His website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in 
The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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