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As part of the serious crisis affecting Israel, the health system is facing a significant challenge: Arab medical personnel report discrimination, silencing, tension, suspicion, and threats. Personal and professional relationships have deteriorated and many workers feel that no-one is listening to their distress. Since the beginning of the “Iron Swords” War, we have received numerous reports of cases where Arab medical professionals have been persecuted and attacked on social media, with demands to suspend them on accusations of supporting terrorism and identifying with the enemy. Cases have also been reported in which Arab physicians have encountered racist comments from patients and colleagues.

In most cases, the allegations are false and are based on assumptions, rumors, and misunderstanding; they are ultimately found to be unsubstantiated. We emphasize that it is important to respond to the small number of instances of posts and comments that meet the definition of supporting the enemy through all legal means available to employers, in any case where actions constitute legal offenses and should incur sanctions.

A striking example of such an incident involves Dr. Abed Samara, former Director of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Hasharon Hospital. Dr. Samara was immediately dismissed after he was accused of expressing support for terrorism on his Facebook page. The Minister of Health condemned him, incitement raged on social media against him and his family was threatened and harassed. He remained suspended throughout the investigation, which was marred by errors. The physician, humiliated and shattered, eventually left a hospital that had been his professional home for 15 years.The unfounded claims revealed that the post which created all of the controversy, was published in June 2022, and had no connection to the war. The post featured an Islamic flag with a quote from the Koran, which Dr. Samara posted as a practicing Muslim.

The Israeli health system has often dealt with crises and challenges in the past. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, cooperation between Jews and Arabs in the health system reached a peak proving its’ advantages as Jewish and Arab medical professionals worked together to protect public health and save lives. Also today, Arab and Jewish health workers provide excellent professional care for those injured with no concern for nationality or religion.

Arab citizens of Israel account for 40% of the workforce in the Israeli health system. This proportion is significantly higher than in any other economic sector, including in the public sector. The integration is not just quantitative but also qualitative. Arab citizens in the health system include hospital directors, emergency room directors, departments heads, and so forth. This unprecedented, hard-earned success is a credit to the health system and an important factor in its success. This is an asset that must be maintained.

The following are our recommendations:

  • Partnerships between Jews and Arabs within the health system must be made a top priority by the Ministry of Health. This partnership is an important component in the functioning and success of the system. The Ministry should vocalize its support for working together and issue guidelines promoting harmonious and efficient work based on trust, even during periods of national tension.
  • The Ministry of Health and hospital leaderships should state their opposition to any form of incitement and racism toward Arab staff members and should take a firm stance against those responsible, whether they come from within the system or from outside.
  • Hospitals should define clear rules outlining conduct expected of staff members. These rules should be published clearly and in all languages in order to ensure all employees are informed. In addition, to the extent that hospitals seek to impose sanctions against those who violate the rules, regulated, transparent and equitable mechanisms should be established. It is recommended that the various health institutions call for restraint and respectful discourse.
  • A clear and known authority should be created for clarifying cases involving suspected prohibited statements. It is recommended that each employer (hospital, HMO, etc.) maintain an authority for such examinations composed of Arabs and Jews. The existence of this mechanism should be published clearly including in Arabic, detailing its method of operation and how complaints should be submitted. The dismissal of employees for statements should be prohibited unless it is based on a thorough examination undertaken by such an authority.

 

[This Policy Paper was submitted to the Knesset’s Health Committee in December 2023.]

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