Dissecting the Anti-Israel ‘Medical Apartheid’ Myth
by Akiva Van Koningsveld
The “Israel Apartheid” campaign isn’t confined only to mainstream media outlets. It also infects the discourse in medical publications.
In an article published by Global Public Health, a peer-reviewed medical journal specializing in public health policy, Drexel University epidemiologists Yazid Barhoush and Joseph Amon (formerly of Human Rights Watch) falsely claim Israel upholds a “system of medical apartheid” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that “directly disfavour[s] Arab non-Jewish citizens [sic].”
HonestReporting has repeatedly outlined how the institutionalized racism and segregation that is the very definition of apartheid is absent from Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. Israeli citizens and permanent residents are all afforded the same access to healthcare, regardless of religion, ethnicity or national origin. Meanwhile, since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the vast majority of Palestinians have been governed by either the notoriously corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank or Hamas, a US-designated terror group, in Gaza.
Of all the malicious accusations hurled against Israel, the vile charge of “medical apartheid,” reminiscent of ancient blood libels against the Jewish people, is perhaps the easiest to disprove with hard facts and data.
Public health scholars @joeamon/@YBarhoush: “Our analysis of the literature on underinvestment in health, data on attacks on health facilities..& on rates of refusal of referral for advanced health care present strong evidence of a system of medical apartheid imposed by Israel..” https://t.co/1wlg2nNYW7 pic.twitter.com/LT3iCZvbx7
— Omar Shakir (@OmarSShakir) April 25, 2023
In the five decades following the Jewish state’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, which put an end to Jordanian and Egyptian control over the West Bank (including eastern Jerusalem) and Gaza respectively, Palestinians have become healthier than ever, with life expectancy having jumped from 48 to 73.80 years. During that same period, the estimated infant mortality rate dropped from 150 to 17 per 1,000 live births, and since Jerusalem in the 1970s rolled out an immunization campaign in Arab communities, the prevalence of dangerous childhood diseases like polio has declined significantly.
While there is still progress to be made, the West Bank and Gaza Strip outperform many countries in the region with regard to the United Nations’ health goals. For example, the Palestinian cancer incidence and mortality rates are comparable or even lower than in some Western nations, including Israel. And while correlation does not equal causation, the Jewish state, at least in part, can be credited for some of the initiatives that greatly helped improve the Palestinian health system over the years.
As Dr. David Stone, emeritus professor of pediatric epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, confirmed in a 2014 paper: “Israel has not damaged Palestinian health. In fact, the opposite is the case. Israeli policies were carefully formulated to improve health conditions in WB/G [West Bank and Gaza] as rapidly as possible. These policies were carried through to implementation on the ground and brought about measurable improvements in Palestinian health and welfare.”
Dissecting the Vile “Medical Apartheid” Claim
In “Medical apartheid in Palestine,” Barhoush and Amon claim to have identified three alleged Israeli practices that they argue amount to “medical apartheid” (a term that, crucially, has no formal definition in international human rights law). These purported policies include “systematic[ally]” depriving the Palestinian health system of funding, “frequent attacks” on healthcare infrastructure, as well as requiring Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to obtain permits to seek treatment in Israel or abroad.
Firstly, the claim that Israel deprives Palestinian health facilities of funding is highly misleading, to say the least. As pointed out by Dr. David Stone, Israel between 1967 and 1994 invested in an “outstanding” child immunization program, developed hospitals, and provided physicians and nurses with “high quality” training. Then, on August 29, 1994, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities, officially transferring responsibility in the health sphere to the newly created Palestinian Authority. Hence, the PA has been in charge for 29 years, whereas Israel’s military government only managed the health system for 27 years (1967-1994).
According to research by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), however, Ramallah has since prioritized “pay-for-slay” payments to terrorists and their families over improving Palestinian health services. Last year, PMW revealed that the PA spends 33.34 times more per capita paying terror rewards than it spends on health services for the civilian population. As a matter of fact: some terrorists in Israeli jail “earn” more than doctors, and even amid a global pandemic, the PA refused to reallocate terror funds so it could buy coronavirus tests and ventilators.
Notably, the Palestinians did acquire millions of COVID-19 vaccines — some of them supplied by Israel — and became among the first in the region to start administering booster shots in August 2021. Yet, in their apparent quest to promote a “blame Israel first” narrative, Barhoush and Amon nevertheless accuse the Jewish state of “vaccine apartheid,” despite there being no clear legal obligation for Jerusalem to inoculate Palestinians who are subjects of the Palestinian Authority government.
The accusation that the Israel Defense Forces target Palestinian medics is a particularly grave one. After all, the law of armed conflict grants medical personnel and facilities special protection against military attacks, and the IDF’s Code of Ethics explicitly forbids troops from “employ[ing] weaponry and power in order to harm non-combatants.”
But the Palestinians don’t play by the same rulebook. Barhoush and Amon omit altogether that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations stand accused of violating international humanitarian law by using ambulances and medical facilities to attack Israelis. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors compliance with the Geneva Conventions, stresses that medical units and transports lose their protected status under international law if they commit, “outside their humanitarian function,” acts that are harmful to the enemy.
For instance, on October 14, 2022, armed terror operatives sought cover behind a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance as they fired at Israeli servicemen during a terrorism counter-raid in Jenin. After the exchange of fire was over, the PA Ministry of Health announced that a local doctor had been killed in the fighting. However, soon after this official announcement, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, an internationally recognized terror group loosely affiliated with the ruling Fatah party, declared that the doctor was a member of the organization and had “died in an armed clash.”
Finally, Barhoush and Amon assert that the travel permit system, which requires West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to apply for permission before seeking treatment at facilities in pre-1967 Israel and other countries, “deprive[s] Palestinians of the full realisation of their right to health.” This reasoning likewise fails, as Israel is simply under no obligation to treat PA residents.
Still, despite ongoing attempts to exploit Israel’s humanitarian policies, some 100,000 Palestinians receive clearance to enter the country for treatment every year. Ten years ago, the Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper quoted its then minister of health as saying that 30 percent of the child patients in Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center are Palestinian, and that the Jerusalem hospital is training “60 Palestinian medical interns and specialist physicians who will be returning to the [Palestinian] Authority areas to carry out their work.”
Indeed, in Israeli hospitals, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are treated equally by both Jewish and Arab medical staff, based solely on medical and not political concerns, putting all accusations of apartheid to bed once and for all.
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.