Asad Khan, Specialist Registrar, Respiratory Medicine Wythenshawe
Manchester, M23 9LT
British Medical Journal, October 7, 2007.
I have been following the debate in these columns with a mixture of
interest and incredulity. I wonder how many of those who accuse Tom
Hickey and Derek Summerfield of 'anti-Israel bias' and 'anti-Semitism'
have actually visited the West Bank or Gaza to see the facts for
themselves. I had the good fortune to visit Israel and the West Bank
for two weeks in August. What I saw there changed my life forever.
We spent a lot of time at checkpoints in the West Bank. Unfortunately,
word 'checkpoint' sounds so benign that it hardly conveys the horror
place. Have you seen a cattle shed crammed full of animals? With only
gate to get out, guarded by a farmer with a stick? Well, just replace
with an Israeli soldier with a rifle - and the animals with
Palestinians - and
you're not far. At Huwwara checkpoint near Nablus, we saw a queue
for half a kilometre out of the cramped shed and into the merciless
by one, the Palestinians were called forward and their documents
Some got through, others were turned back. Depending on the mood of
soldier. The explanation given for the checkpoints - 'security' - is a
the barriers mostly stand between Palestinian cities and towns, not
Palestine and Israel.
Israel, through its system of 700 checkpoints, roadblocks and earth
in the West Bank strangles the Palestinians' freedom of movement. 68
have been forced to give birth at checkpoints since the year 2000
( www.ifamericansknew.org ). Half of the babies involved have died, as
of the women. Many of the babies born have suffered irreversible brain
damage. Imagine being the helpless husband or son of a woman forced to
endure the pain of labour on the baking earth at a checkpoint - with an
soldier looking on - and you will begin to understand how suicide
18000 houses have been demolished by Israel since 1967, often over the
of their inhabitants (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
- www.icahd.org ). The reason given again? The big lie
- security. The
that even if a Palestinian owns a piece of land, to build or extend an
existing dwelling on it, he must put in an application costing $20000.
is almost uniformly rejected, and as his family grows, he is forced to
illegally. Then in come the bulldozers. The Palestinian then has to
the rubble themselves and pay the Israeli government for the cost of
demolishing his house.
There have been several references in these columns to the attempted
terrorist attacks by Muslim doctors in Britain. Such people would do
remember that the first 'doctor terrorist' was Jewish - Baruch
gunned down 29 Palestinians at prayer in the city of Hebron in 1994,
injuring 150 others. A shrine to Goldstein has been erected in the
settlement of Kiryat Arba - a plaque there reads: "To the holy Baruch
Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the
of Israel". It has become a pilgrimage site for those with extreme
In the old city of Hebron, 400 fanatical settlers - protected by
Defence Force soldiers - hold 30000 Palestinians to ransom. They stone
kick the inhabitants, while the Israeli army forbids Palestinians to
drive - in some areas, even to walk - on the streets. I saw for myself the
blocks, rubbish and human excrement thrown down onto passing
the illegal settlers occupying the flats above Arab shops. The racist
graffiti is shocking:
- 'Arabs to the gas chambers!' - 'Watch out Fatima, we will rape all
Arabs!' - 'Mohammed is a pig'. Below this is a drawing of a pig reading the Quran.
- 'If you Arabs had just used a f***ing condom, then none of this would
(If anybody finds this unbelievable, give me your email address and I
be all too happy to send you photographic evidence.)
Walking through old Hebron, you pass row upon row of abandoned shops
their doors welded together and spray-painted with the Star of David.
resonance of the Warsaw ghetto is chilling.
As for the stance that Israel is the 'only democracy in the Middle
'treats all its citizens equally', I invite you to visit the Negev
Israel. The Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights
( www.phr.org.il ) told us of the plight of Bedouins there. There are 60
villages which have existed before 1948, the existence of which Israel
not recognize. As a result they have no healthcare, electricity or
water. Their infant mortality rate is 7 times the Israeli average - in
4th richest country in the world, with possibly the best healthcare
Those who grieve at the potential loss of academic freedom that a
Israel may cause would do well to learn about the violation of
academic freedom. We visited Birzeit University just outside Ramallah.
we were told by Yasser Darwish, the Public Relations officer for the
institution, how during the Second Intifada the Israelis constructed a
checkpoint between Ramallah city and Birzeit. This checkpoint was
but a series of earth mounds, piles of rubble and huge rocks
a mile and a half - with the sole purpose of obstructing the passage of
people. This was not all - people trying to reach the University by
around the obstacles were often greeted with beatings, rubber bullets
teargas. Sometimes students and teachers would be allowed to go to Birzeit
in the morning but the checkpoint would be completely closed in the
afternoon when it was time to go home. 5000 students and teachers
have to take a circuitous route over hills and through valleys to get
home - this would take upto 2 hours.
Students - including females - were subjected to humiliating body
Soldiers stormed the women's dormitories on several occasions,
windows, doors and furniture. Electricity, water and telephone lines
Birzeit and Ramallah were cut off, isolating people from the outside
Healthcare is not a 'basic human right' in Palestine. It is incredible
some people have been highlighting the graciousness of Israel in
treat wounded and ill Palestinians. Under the Geneva conventions, an
occupying power has responsibility for the health of the people it
In Nablus, we visited Rafidia Hospital, the main general hospital. We
met by Dr Sadaqah, the Deputy Director. He told us that each time the
Israelis invade Nablus, the first thing they do is to encircle the
preventing the passage of staff and patients and resulting in
deaths. Sometimes patients need to be transferred to hospitals in
or Israel - however the Israeli authorities create hurdles at every
opportunity. Often by the time permission is obtained (a minimum of 2
even for an emergency), the patient dies - this happened to a burns
two days before our visit.
At the height of the 2002-2003 invasions and curfews, Rafidia received
cases of serious injuries every day. Staff ended up living in the
for 23 days. The Israeli army prevented casualties from the Old City
going to Rafidia - a clinic was set up in a mosque in the Old City to
with them. Dr Sadaqah told us that this clinic had to perform two
amputations without anaesthesia. The Israelis would also prevent
being taken for burial - as a result the hospital morgue overflowed and
ice-cream trucks had to be used to store the bodies.
He also told us that the Israelis would regularly enter the hospital,
actually removed 4 patients from their beds. One of these was actually
intensive care patient who had just returned from major surgery. When
doctors and nurses asked for reasons, they were simply pushed aside.
horrified to learn that when the soldiers removed patients from the
hospital, they were accompanied by Israeli doctors who never tried to
this happening. The soldiers would often remove patients from
while they 'checked' them.
Do you hear the Israeli Medical Association protesting against these
violations of human rights by Israel?
I had the good fortune to interview two students from Al Quds
Medical School in Jerusalem. To understand the unique situation that
students - and indeed all Palestinian Jerusalemites - face, it is
revisit 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and
annexed East Jerusalem. Israel declared Jerusalem to be 'the unified
of Israel'; a position not recognized by the international community,
including the United States.
The Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were offered Israeli
citizenship - however this entailed pledging allegiance to Israel. Unsurprisingly,
them declined. They were therefore declared 'residents' without
and are obliged to carry blue Jerusalem ID cards. The space next to
'Nationality' on these cards is blank. The residents of the West Bank,
contrast, carry green ID cards.
Blue ID holders cannot travel to the West Bank, and those with green
cannot enter Jerusalem. This situation has divided families - including
married couples. If a Jerusalem resident marries a West Bank
is forbidden for them to live together either in the West Bank or
As a result, many couples live illegally, in constant fear that one of
will be discovered and expelled. The only precedent to this obscene
situation is that of South Africa under Apartheid.
The students explained that the campus of the medical school is
located in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis. The main teaching hospital
- Maqassed - is in
the city proper. You used to be unable to tell where Abu Dis ended and
Jerusalem started. Not any more. Israel's Separation Wall has
two and for all practical purposes, Abu Dis is now in the West Bank.
One of the students told us that of the 40 students in his year, 5
ID and the rest green. You can imagine the consequences. To go to
for their training, students with green ID need a special permit - which is
very difficult to obtain. Even those who manage to get one can never
they will make it to the hospital as they are frequently turned away
checkpoint for no reason. Therefore most green ID students are forced
travel to West Bank hospitals for their clinics - across more
The converse situation is that blue ID students may be able to attend
clinics but are often stopped from going to lectures in Abu Dis. And
no straightforward trip - a journey that should take no more than ten
can last an hour and a half due to checkpoints and the circuitous
students have to take.
When they do manage to qualify, al-Quds doctors are prohibited from
in hospitals in Jerusalem and Israel as their qualification is not
recognized by Israel. The West Bank hospitals are only an option for
with green ID. This situation forces many to go abroad.
As for those who claim that Israel, with its violations of human
'merely defending itself', I would like to bring to your attention the
following statistic from the BBC: In 2006, 660 Palestinians were
Israeli 'security' forces. These included 141 children. The total
Israelis killed by Palestinians in 2006? 23. Follow the link below for
Now that I am back in the UK - and have opened my mouth in these
columns - I know I shall be accused of being anti-Semitic. This is
intellectually bankrupt nonsense. I have many Jewish friends in
Britain, and now in Israel as well. They are disgusted at what Israel
is doing, and are fighting a brave and often dangerous battle,
sometimes at the expense of being ostracized by family and friends.
The leading critics of Israeli policy - Noam Chomsky, Amira Hass, Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein, the late
Reinhart - are all Jewish.
This is not a centuries-old Jews versus Muslims conflict. (Also
remember - 12% of Palestinians are Christians, and this number includes leading
like Hanan Ashrawi and the late Edward Said.) It is a matter of basic
rights. If one is criticizing house demolitions, checkpoints,
executions etc, and one is accused of being anti-Semitic, then the
is bizarre indeed. In order for these criticisms to be anti-Semitic,
accuser has to accept those violations of international law as
characteristics of Judaism. So who is being anti-Semitic here?
Another question I am likely to be asked is, 'There are so many
the world today - why are you so obsessed with Palestine?' In case you
guessed by now, justice for Palestine is the key to peace in the
East. It is a festering sore in the flesh of every Arab; the longer it
on, the more resentful of the West they become.
Yes, there are many terrible conflicts like Darfur, Somalia, the
Chechnya and Kashmir. But these are relatively recent, while the
of the Palestinians has been going on for 60 years. It is the longest
ongoing occupation in the world today - and the only one apart from
the only one where the oppressor is being financed and armed to the
the 'civilized' world.
You may wonder what all this has got to do with the debate over a
Well, despite individual dissenting voices, it is clear that Israeli
academia and the Israeli Medical Association have failed to come out
body and condemn the occupation. This is despite repeated calls by
Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations. By
silence, they are complicit in human rights abuses - I have no choice
campaign for a boycott.
The 'exchange of ideas' has led nowhere - despite years of talks at
governmental level, a just peace for the Palestinians remains a
dream. It is time for people in other countries to adopt measures to
stigmatize Israel, something which their governments refuse to do.
a precedent - South Africa. Given the fact that many prominent South
Africans - including Nelson Mandela, Ronnie Kasrils and Desmond Tutu - have
publicly said that Israel's oppression of the Palestinians is far
South Africa under Apartheid - why the hesitation to enforce a boycott?
As for those who sympathize with the Palestinians but are against
I have a simple question - in that case, what are they going to do for
Palestinians - whom the world has boycotted and abandoned for so long?
academic freedom of Israelis is sacred, should that not apply to
Palestinians as well?
Asad Khan, Specialist Registrar, Respiratory Medicine Wythenshawe
Manchester, M23 9LT.
For a full account of my trip, please visit
Competing interests: I am a Muslim who refuses to be labelled an
simply for criticizing the oppressive policies of the Israeli state