Just as seasons return annually in a cycle, so do the claims that torture does not take place in Israel, and specifically – that physicians are not involved.
Hence – based on these definitions - are Israeli physicians playing a role in investigations involving torture?
At the Izmir conference, which featured human rights organizations that focus on the right to health, as well as national medical associations, we were surprised to discover that even in such a setting there is a reluctance to deal with the topic.
Dr. Ruchama Marton learned this while representing Physicians for Human Rights-Israel at the “Health as a Bridge to Peace in the Middle East” conference. The event was held Oct 27-30 2009, and was organized by the World Medical Association, the Turkish and Norwegian medical associations, and the International Federations of Health and Human Rights Organizations.
“My presentation included the story of M., as he recounted his case to his attorneys. His investigation was accompanied by beatings and torture, which ultimately led to his evacuation to hospital by ambulance. His testimony is riddled with mentions of medical personnel who – according to testimony - breached their ethical obligations. The ambulance crew was told by interrogators not to reveal what had happened. “Say he fell down the stairs”, they were told. A physician tended to him while he was chained and was asked by interrogators to discourage hospitalization. The physician agreed. As they returned to the prison, the ambulance waited 3 hours before entering in order to wait for the beginning of the shift of an “easier doctor – one who won’t ask any questions.”
Several minutes before Dr. Marton was set to speak, conference organizers approached her and asked her to avoid presenting the case of M., for fear that representatives of the Israeli Medical Association (outgoing chairman, Dr. Blachar, new chairman, Dr. Idelman, and Mr. Vafner, the attorney) may leave the conference. Conference organizers claimed that their presence was crucial, as they were hoping to work toward future cooperation with the Israeli group in a forum of NGOs and national medical associations on the subject of torture.
Dr. Marton presented her case in its entirety, but as a compromise she did not elaborate on the matter of M. The conference closed with no vote on a future agenda for collaborative projects being held, because NGOs did not want representatives of national medical associations, who held a majority at the conference, to dictate the subjects for the future agenda.
In her recommendations, Dr. Marton demanded that the World Health Organization and the World Medical Association obligate national medical associations to:
1) Educate and take real action to prevent physicians from abetting torture
2) Require physicians to report any cases of torture
3) Provide legal and financial aid to anyone who was hurt financially after reporting cases of torture
Dr. Marton repeated her request that the World Health Organization and the World Medical Association review specific cases from around the world and reach conclusions that would further the struggle against torture. She stressed that previous calls by PHR-IL and other bodies were ignored.
Finally, Dr. Marton says “it seems that politics are above the actual facts. In the meantime, encouraged by the relative lull in criticism, the Israeli Medical Association continues to turn to denial.” While they keep their mouths shut, Dr. Marton promises to continue to speak out, as she believes the doctor’s gown still brings upon its wearers certain obligations. In the eyes of PHR-IL, the Tokyo Declaration is ridiculed as long as doctors remain silent.