Yona Schiffmiller
Yona Schiffmiller

World Health Organization Blames Israel for Palestinian Ills

In 2014, the 67th World Health Assembly (WHA) of the World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned a “field assessment” report on the state of health in Gaza, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights.  The publication, which was presented last month to the 68th WHA, unfortunately confuses politics and medicine, inappropriately advancing the former at the expense of the latter.  A subsequent report submitted by the WHO Secretariat suffers from some of the same deficiencies.

The “field assessment” relies heavily on data produced by unreliable, politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  These include B’tselem and Physicians for Human Rights- Israel, and are augmented by articles published by the anti-Israel Lancet-Palestinian Health Alliance (LPHA).  These organizations employ flawed methodologies, make false legal claims, and portray events in a one-sided manner.  Unsurprisingly, the submission to the WHA adopts many of the same strategies and approaches.

The report asserts that Gaza is occupied by Israel, even though Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from that territory in 2005. This attempt to portray Israel as an “occupier” in Gaza is a form of legal warfare, or “lawfare,” reflecting the use of false and invented legal claims. Israel is then baselessly chastised for not issuing more permits allowing Palestinians from Gaza to access Israeli hospitals, even though it provides  thousands of permits annually despite not being required to do so.

In the same vein, East Jerusalem residents hold Israeli residency cards and as such are entitled to Israeli medical care. Yet, East Jerusalem is categorized as part of the West Bank.  The same is true for the Golan Heights and Druze residents.  Their inclusion reflects a failure to grasp the nuances of the reality in Israel, as well as an underlying political agenda of finding Israel guilty.

Another major fault of the “field assessment” report is repeating the canard that Israel is denying Palestinians access to water.  In fact, Israel has continuously worked to provide the Palestinians with modern water infrastructure.  When Israeli forces entered the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War, only 4 out of 708 Palestinian towns and villages were connected to a network of running water.  As of March 2010, over 96% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank had been connected to running water, with projects under construction to provide water to another 2.5%.[1]

The report then invokes the language of mental health for the purpose of taking a stance on unrelated political issues such as settlement construction and the West Bank security barrier.  The authors suggest that these contribute to Palestinian anxiety, advancing the argument that any action Palestinians object to can legitimately by considered by the medical community.

The report also insidiously claims that the building of Israeli homes is an obstacle to “access to health care, water, sanitation and food.”  There is no evidence to support this illogical accusation, nor do the authors attempt to provide any, leaving the charge unsubstantiated.

Even when addressing issues of actual medical relevance, the “field assessment” misses the mark.  It decries the damage to medical infrastructure and vehicles in Gaza, sustained during the 2014 conflict there.  It fails however to mention the multiple hospitals that were commandeered by Hamas as command centers, rocket launching sites, and past uses of hospitals as torture sites.  Similarly, it objects to the Israeli policy that requires Palestinian ambulance teams to transfer patients to Israeli ambulances at crossings while ignoring the myriad examples of Palestinian terrorist organizations taking advantage of these medical vehicles to transport fighters and explosives and the reported use of an ambulance as a car bomb targeting IDF forces during the 2014 conflict.  An honest appraisal of the state of Palestinian health cannot be complete without tackling these illegal acts.

It would be problematic enough if the issue of terrorism was ignored altogether but this analysis of Palestinian health may in fact justify Palestinian violence directed at Israelis: “In particular, interviewees expressed that experiences of humiliation could be a driver of violence.”  Not only is the cause-and-effect of Palestinian terrorism and resulting Israeli security policies inverted in this description, but violence is excused instead of being roundly condemned.

An assessment of Palestinian health is a reasonable task for the WHO to carry out.  To do so effectively, however, the organization must base their analyses on facts and not contrived NGO distortions, admit Palestinian abuses of medical infrastructure and vehicles, and remain focused on the core issues of health without veering off to launch political attacks against unrelated Israeli policies.  To do otherwise is to allow the world of medicine to be hijacked by those seek to transform it into an arena for anti-Israel propaganda.

[1] Haim Gvirtzman, “The Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: An Israeli Perspective,” The Begin-Sadat Institute for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 94, January 2012, p. 9.

About the Author
Yona holds an M.A. in International Relations from Hebrew University.