American Jewish Congress president Richard Gordon has demanded that the World Medical Association - an umbrella body of national medical associations - dismiss a call for a boycott of Israeli physicians.
In a letter sent last week to World Medical Association President Dr. Nachiappan Arumugam, Gordon said the call by a group of British doctors for the expulsion of the Israel Medical Association from the world body was based on both "factual and legal distortions."
The main argument made by the British doctors was that Israel had "systematically flouted the fourth Geneva Convention guaranteeing a civilian population unfettered access to medical services and immunity for medical staff."
But Gordon argues that "pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding reached between the International Committee of the Red Cross, Israel's Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, arrangements have been made to allow PRCS ambulances to pass unhindered through checkpoints using registered drivers."
At a meeting at the AJC's national offices late last month, the International Committee of the Red Cross's area director, Christoph Harnisch, said important progress was being made in the ongoing discussions on this point.
"A boycott resting on claims of interference with the passage of ambulances is thus without factual or legal foundation," Gordon argued.
In addition to misrepresenting the facts, the boycott call does not mention why Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulances are subject to inspection at Israeli security barriers: the persistent misuse of ambulances and other medical facilities by Palestinians, including terrorists, he said.
Harnisch confirmed that there are still instances when Palestinians use ambulances to circumvent Israeli security measures. Both the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent leadership have insisted that such abuses stop.
According to the Geneva Convention, medical units that are misused lose their protected status for such violations.
"Israel is under no obligation, legal or moral, to tolerate the abuse of humanitarian law, especially when these violations give rise to grave risks to its citizensâ€š safety," Gordon declared.
Finally, the boycott advocates assert a Geneva Convention guarantee of "unfettered access" to medical services. However, no such provision exists.
Critics of Israel also misquote international law with regard to who holds responsibility for the delivery of medical services. In fact, the "occupying power" (Israel) is not the only, or even primary, guarantor of the health of citizens of occupied territories. Gordon cited the relevant language from the fourth Geneva Convention: "The [obligation] is above all one for the competent services of the occupied country itself" (in this case the Palestinian Authority).
The AJC president quoted official Israeli reports that efforts to foster cooperation between MDA and the Red Crescent Society on blood banks and other public health issues "have been held hostage by the Palestinian side to "progress on other contested political issues... We do not deny that the security measures imposed on the West Bank impose hardships on Palestinians. Those measures would, however, be largely unnecessary if Palestinians (encouraged by the governing party, Hamas) did not engage in terror attacks against Israeli civilians, not stopping at exploiting medical facilities for these purposes. By wrenching these measures from their context, proponents of a boycott show their true colors and expose the bankruptcy of their claims," he concluded.