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The Guardian: “A doctor’s call”

by Victoria Brittain, January 30th

Mona el-Farra, a Palestinian doctor working in Gaza should have been in London this evening, launching a campaign for peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on recognition of international law.

The campaign, simply called “Enough”, is backed by various aid organisations, trade unions, faith and other campaign groups.

Dr Farra was invited before Christmas, and planned to leave Gaza around January 15 to allow plenty of time to get through the difficult Rafah border with Egypt. But she is not in London today because – along with hundreds of other Palestinians – she was refused the right to cross the border. For a week, with her suitcase packed, she thought she would be able to come. But in the end the border was only opened one way – into Gaza from Egypt, not out of it.

Last week, in an attempt to get an exemption for Dr Farra, two eminent British doctors – Derek Summerfield and David Halpin – faxed new invitations to her to come to London. But these health professionals’ invitations also cut no ice with the Israelis.

For almost a year or more Dr Farra’s blog, From Gaza, With Love, has been giving a uniquely vivid idea of the day-to-day desperate poverty and total unpredictability of life in Gaza, and the work of a doctor in that place where everything is lacking.

Dr Farra coordinates incoming aid, and organises three doctors and dozens of women volunteers to distribute food parcels, milk, meat, blankets, money vouchers, medicines for sick children and cancer patients, university fees for needy students, etc.

The border was opened 14 times in six months, electricity was off for four months, she wrote. Patients died waiting at the border, women gave birth on the road waiting for permission to travel to hospital, ambulances have been restricted, four emergency health workers died in December …

Is this why the Israelis don’t want people in Britain to hear her speak?

It is her blogs, as well as personal experience of working in the occupied Palestinian territories on and off for 14 years that has brought Dr Derek Summerfield and many of his colleagues to support the call of Palestinian health professionals like Dr Farra, last November, for a boycott of links with the Israeli universities and hospitals which support the occupation, and stronger links with Israeli institutions and organisations which defy it. They joined the boycott call by 60 Palestinian trade union and civil society organisations.

Dr Summerfield, South African by birth, honorary senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, makes the parallels with the academic isolation of apartheid South Africa (which was much contested at the time):

This rightly included a boycott of the medical profession for collusion of a very similar nature to what we see today in Israel. For instance, the Medical Association of South Africa was for a time suspended from membership of the World Medical Association. On visits there in recent years I have heard it said more than once that the boycott played a distinct role in bringing the profession to its senses.

As in South Africa, the Israeli medical profession, and the establishment generally, is sensitive to opinion in the western world, not least from fellow doctors. An academic boycott in an extreme situation is a moral and ethical imperative when all else has failed.

The place to start is a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association, who have made their decisions with their eyes open over many years, and should be held to account for them. Any Israeli doctor who publicly dissociates him or herself from state practice becomes part of the solution rather than part of the problem.