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(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.
accused it of being politicized and one-sided.
Organized by the
university’s Society for Medicine, the conference was titled Healthcare
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.”
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
“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.”
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.
the view of historian Julian Cole, ‘There are now only three options
left for Palestine/Israel: apartheid, expulsion or one state.’”
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
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?”
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.
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
professor emeritus at St George’s
Hospital Medical School, London, and chairman of Hadassah UK, said
Israeli hospitals don’t discriminate.
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
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.