Violence against medical professionals must end - editorial

The public deserves to be safe at hospitals - this should be obvious considering that we only recently come out of a pandemic, and it is indicative of a much larger issue.

Healthcare workers, nurses and doctors, unified under the movement called "Take Care of Care" wearing face masks gesture during a protest against the Belgian authorities' management of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, at the MontLegia CHC Hospital in Liege, Belgium, May 15, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Healthcare workers, nurses and doctors, unified under the movement called "Take Care of Care" wearing face masks gesture during a protest against the Belgian authorities' management of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, at the MontLegia CHC Hospital in Liege, Belgium, May 15, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Increasing violence against health care professionals is plaguing Israel. This requires the government to crack down on those who harass, intimidate and cause violence at health facilities across the country.

The public deserves to be safe at hospitals and this should be obvious considering that we only recently come out of a pandemic and we must treat the vulnerable and those who provide them with care with dignity. However, despite that simple fact and our country’s seeming understanding about the importance of public health, for too long lawlessness and violence have become the norm in swaths of Israel.

The recent rise in hospital attacks

Attacks on doctors and nurses as well as brawls at hospitals have become normal because there are parts of this country who believe they have the privilege to live outside the law and believe that violence is a viable option. Shoving, shouting, cursing and violence, these people feel, is legitimate when they don’t get their way. We also lack enforcement that will detain and charge people in cases where health professionals are attacks. It’s time the government pass laws that make attacks in hospitals and clinics and violence on these premises a special punishable offense, similar to hate crimes legislation and anti-terror laws.

For instance, staff at a hospital in northern Israel was recently attacked by members of a family. There was a strike by some staff in response. But the staff shouldn’t have to be in fear of the public. Angry families of people who storm hospitals in gangs – as if they run this country – are often privileged with appeasement. They are allowed to shout and curse and destroy things, attacking members of the public and staff, and even when it is caught on video the authorities turn a blind eye. The message is not to “offend” the people who use violence, not to upset the status quo that exists as if a large sign hangs over our health institutions saying: There are no laws here; you can attack people and not be prosecuted.

 A sign reading ''here we are striking, stop the violence'' can be seen in a hallway at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer in response to violence against medical staff, May 19, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) A sign reading ''here we are striking, stop the violence'' can be seen in a hallway at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer in response to violence against medical staff, May 19, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

In another incident, reports said dozens of people tried to break into a trauma room at The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya. For too long we have decided that Arab “families” and “clans” which come from lawless areas of the country in the North and South, where there is no police and where gun violence is the norm, can do as they want as long as there are enough of them.

Why do armed guards at hospitals have to pepper spray gangs of men? Why do other patients have to suffer in fear and cower as the hospitals appear to be run more like Taliban justice in Afghanistan than a country that pretends to be the “start-up nation.”

Where is the law truly enforced?

Too often this country is only the start-up nation for the privileged. If a person is poor or a member of a minority group, they are often abandoned to lawlessness in parts of the country. On Saturday night we saw Gerrer Hassidim break out in violence in Jerusalem because of a dispute involving two rabbis. Once again, there was no police, no enforcement; there were no laws.

Doctors are striking because of the violence. Israel has not put in place the recommendations going back to 2017 to halt it and our doctors and nurses are working in fear instead of being able to focus on their job of treating the weak and saving lives.

Our hospitals are no longer places of recuperation, health and peace; but rather they are places where every citizen has to be on guard for violence and where our health workers are randomly attacked, subjected to terror by thuggish “families” of the patients who seem to run things rather than the silent majority who has to be at their mercy in this disaster.

Guards at hospitals don’t have the resources or the law on their side. It’s time to put an end to this. Those causing violence need to face special charges that go beyond the usual, while the violent attackers need to be prevented from entering health facilities as if they are armed gangs.