Selected Articles from Ha'aretz
The Silence of The Doctors
August 9, 1998
What still shocks us?
What still has the power to make us do something instead of taking a
know-nothing attitude? What are the moral responsibilities of those in
charge of our health?
Al Arir was a 60-year-old prisoner from Gaza who spent 27 years of his life
in Israeli prisons. He was hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center,
underwent bypass surgery, spent about a month in the cardiac and respiratory
intensive care units, and died a few hours after being returned to his cell.
During the entire period of his hospitalization, including treatment in
intensive care, when he was hooked up to an artificial respirator, he was
chained to his bed with leg restraints. The story was first reported in
Ha'aretz-IHT last Thursday.
almost a month, heads of departments, physicians, nurses and others at
Sheba, all of whom swear by Israeli medicine, saw this elderly man, 20 times
a grandfather, in a serious condition, chained to his bed. Most of the time
he was alone with his guards. No one from his family, not his wife (apart
from two hasty visits) or his children, was allowed to tend to his needs. A
prisoner is a prisoner, especially if he is a Palestinian security prisoner.
dedicated, skilled medical staff at Sheba saw all this - and did nothing.
According to a hospital spokesman, only one physician, Dr. Salim Hajj Yihyeh,
tried to persuade officials of the Prisons Service to unchain Al Arir. That
effort, of course, was too little, too late. No one from the hospital's
administration or from the wards where Al Arir was treated took determined
action to get their patient's restraints removed. No one stood up and told
prison authorities that the hospital would not countenance a situation in
which a patient who was unable to breathe on his own was chained to his bed.
all saw and they all were silent. Although medical staff at hospitals have
the final say on almost everything that happens to their patients, and in
some cases also to their visitors, they suddenly took a
"know-nothing" stance, giving up their sovereignty and their
responsibility, cloaking themselves in silence and excuses. A spokesman at
the Health Ministry indirectly justified the behavior of the Sheba
personnel: "The physicians are responsible for health, and the security
men for security," he explained. The spokesman said that the ministry
has no regulations on the chaining of prisoners, reflecting the health
system's rank indifference on the subject.
Prisons Service, on the other hand, reacted with supercilious
self-righteousness. Knowing that the Al Arir story was about to break, it
issued a statement to the effect that henceforth the procedures would be
revised, but only with regard to the chaining of terminal patients. Did the
Prisons Service have to wait for Al Arir to die? And was Al Arir, a
post-bypass patient, a "terminal" case?
Al Arir was neither the first nor the last patient to be chained to his bed.
A few years ago, Dr. Ahmed Tibi made public the shocking story of a prisoner
named Intassar al-Kak, from the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem. She was
forced to give birth in the obstetrics ward of Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava
while chained to the bed. Less than two years ago I saw, at Hadassah
Hospital in Ein Kerem, a 14-year-old boy named Muataz Jardath, from the
village of Sa'ir in the West Bank, chained to his bed and guarded by two
soldiers to make sure he did not try to move. His parents were denied
visiting rights for a few days. The just-published annual report of the
Physicians for Human Rights group cites other cases of prisoner-patients
being chained to hospital beds.
short, the phenomenon is witnessed by many physicians in nearly every
hospital. They are signatories to the Hippocratic Oath and to the 1975 Tokyo
Declaration of the World Medical Association, which states: "The doctor
shall not countenance, condone nor participate in the practice of torture or
other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures, whatever the offense
of which the victim of such procedures is suspected, accused or
guilty," including armed conflict and civil strife. Nevertheless, the
majority of our physicians do not lift a finger in the face of what they
in Northern Ireland it was police physicians who informed the public of the
torture being administered in interrogation rooms, in Israel physicians are
the ones who give torture the kosher seal. It is clear from the testimony of
many Palestinian interrogees that the physicians' only goal is to prevent
the disruption of the interrogation due to the collapse of prisoners. Apart
from that, their health and well-being are of no interest to them. The
Israel Medical Association is mute on the subject.
health system, a source of pride for its professional achievements, has
failed one of its supreme ethical tests. With the power and status these
first-class physicians enjoy in Israeli society, they could play a key role
in the preservation of human rights. Instead, most of them prefer to immerse
themselves in their world of research and medicine, shutting their eyes to
the atrocities they witness. They will never be able to say "I did not
see," "I did not know," or "What could I do?