Oxford students blame Israel for bad Palestinian healthcare

Anti-Israel activist, former British MP George Galloway invited as special guest at university conference.

By JONNY PAUL
May 16, 2010 04:05
Oxford students blame Israel for bad Palestinian healthcare

oxford u 298. (photo credit: Courtesy)

LONDON – A conference at Oxford University on Thursday that blamed Israel for the poor state of healthcare in the Palestinian territories has been lambasted by a number of prominent Jewish medical professionals.

They accused it of being politicized and one-sided.

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Organized by the university’s Society for Medicine, the conference was titled Healthcare Under Siege.

The Student Society described the event as “leaders in the medical world to gather at Oxford University and say end the siege, remove the wall and build Palestinian health instead.”

“In this conference, the speakers will draw on their personal experiences in the occupied Palestinian territories to expose the devastating effect of crippling economic blockades and military attacks on civilian health and access to medical care in Gaza,” the society said in advertising material.

“The occupied territories present a uniquely challenging environment to the work of doctors and surgeons,” said Omar Abdel-Mannan, a medical student and president of the society. “This event brings together some of the medical community’s highest authorities to discuss the factors contributing to the poor health of people in the region – and their solutions.”

Keynote speakers included renowned medical researcher Sir Iain Chalmers; Colin Green, professor of surgical science at University College London; and Dr. Richard Horton, editor of the medical journal The Lancet. Seasoned anti-Israel activists former MP George Galloway and Ghada Karmi attended as special guests.



Writing in The Lancet in March 2009, Chalmers, who spent two years as a UN medical officer in Gaza, said: “Israel defines itself as ‘the Jewish state,’ yet, within the territory it controls and continues to colonize, there is now approximate parity in the numbers of Israeli Jews and non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs – of whom 3.7m. live in the occupied territories and 1.2m. in Israel. For many, Israel will continue to be judged by its attitudes and actions towards the non-Jews whose lives it controls.

In the view of historian Julian Cole, ‘There are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: apartheid, expulsion or one state.’”

A pro-Palestinian campaigner, Green supports the call for a boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel.

“Just as I campaigned for boycotts against apartheid in South Africa many years ago, now I shall do so against Israeli apartheid,” he said in a 2007 article in The Guardian.

Explaining how his views were formed, he said: “Just as film documentary images of British soldiers opening the gates of Belsen in 1945 was a defining moment in my life, so the immediate aftermath of the Jenin massacre and the terror of overwhelming military force in the destruction of Rafah, in Gaza, which I have witnessed in recent years have had the most profound effect on my opinions. You have to see it for yourself. We cannot go on muttering platitudes about academic freedom and exchange of ideas. What freedom?”

“It’s clearly going to be very one-sided, and I doubt if anyone will be there to put the opposite view on all the positive things Israeli hospitals and doctors do,” said Lord Leslie Turnberg, former president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the Daniel Turnberg Trust in memory of his son, a doctor and medical researcher who died in a 2007 airplane crash in Africa. The fund encourages interaction and collaboration between medical practitioners from Israel, neighboring Arab states and the UK.

Writing in a medical journal about a recent visit to two children’s hospitals in Israel, Turnberg said: “At Safra Children’s Hospital [Tel Hashomer] at any one time, there are 30-40 children from Gaza with their families receiving specialist care such as cardiac surgery or bone marrow transplantation. More than half of their cardiac surgery patients are from Gaza.

“Similarly, at the Schneider Children’s Hospital [in Petah Tikva] we saw many Palestinian children being cared for, and a pediatrician from Gaza spent 18 months training in pediatric oncology. There are many such interactions, but they remain largely unpublished, in part at least because of the fear of Hamas,” he said.

“The speakers [at the conference] promote rather extreme anti-Israel opinions and I have never heard any of them utter a word about all the positive virtues and values that Israel espouses,” Turnberg said. “Hence their views can hardly be regarded as balanced or worthy of them.

“I know many of them and respect their work in other fields. It is unfortunate that they have taken the stance they have on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A few words from any of them on the humanitarian work done in Israeli hospitals for Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank would go a little way to demonstrate at least a partial lack of bias, but I suspect that that would be asking too much.”

“Resolving healthcare problems in Gaza requires engagement with Israel, Israelis and Gazans, not posturing in Oxford,” said David Katz, professor of Immunology at University College London. “Unfortunately, this panel does not inspire confidence and suggests a propaganda publicity stunt. Surely an eminent epidemiologist like Sir Iain should be circumspect about associating with George Galloway, or indeed with Dr. Horton, whose poor track record of judgment on the MMR [Measles, mumps and rubella] vaccine saga speaks for itself.”


Stuart Stanton, professor emeritus at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, and chairman of Hadassah UK, said Israeli hospitals don’t discriminate.

“Hadassah, and other hospitals in Israel, brings first-class medical attention to the Palestinian population,” Stanton said. “Hadassah in Jerusalem did not let politics onto its premises when saving the lives of Palestinian suicide bombers injured while killing hundreds of Israelis. We do not let politics into our premises when we save lives of Palestinian babies with severe heart defects. We ignore political aspects when we conduct dozens of collaborative research and clinical projects with Palestinian physicians in a variety of medical and health areas.”

The Oxford Society for Medicine is said to “promote debate on key issues.” However, a debate has two sides, Stanton said.

Responding to the accusation, Abdel-Mannan said: “The focus of the conference was the obstacles to healthcare and medical education in the occupied territories rather than Israel’s role.

“As it was completely open to the public, anyone who was concerned that it may be unfairly critical of Israel could have attended the event. We are a society that encourages debate from all sides and thrives on discussion between academics, students and medics,” he maintained.

“I would also like to add that one of our speakers urged support to Israeli human rights organisations during the conference, and mentioned their exemplary work particularly in light of recent threats to their charitable status,” Abdel-Mannan added.


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