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Toronto Community News | 23 May 2008

Claiming neutrality on Palestinian suffering unacceptable: doctor

A British physician is helping spearhead a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association for its role in the displacement of Palestinians in Israel.

The presentation given by Dr. Asad Kahn, dubbed "First, Do No Harm: A Doctor's Experience of Life Under Israeli Occupation", provided a peek into life under Israeli occupation. The presentation was held at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto on May 20. Khan is also associated with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI).

Armed with photographs taken while visiting the region, he had a sickening tale to tell. He likened current living conditions of Palestinians and the abuse they face from Jewish settlers in certain cities to the Warsaw Ghetto that Polish Jews were subjected to at the hands of their Nazi German oppressors during the Second World War.

Poverty and violence are rife in occupied Palestine and Palestinian homes are regularly demolished by the Israeli army. In Gaza, a public health disaster is unfolding where 85 per cent of the people depend on food aid. Water and sanitation are in a shocking state of decline - Kahn stated the ongoing construction of the so-called security wall Israel is building around Palestinian towns is effectively cutting off fresh water to them. Moreover, 70 per cent of nine-month-old Palestinian children are anemic, and 13 to 15 per cent of Gaza's children are stunted in growth.

"I'm not an historian nor am I a politician," the soft-spoken respirologist explained. "But you can't say 'we're neutral'. Could you have said that about the Holocaust or in the situation of (South African) apartheid?"

Kahn made clear from the get-go being neutral on this subject won't wash. He called Israel's treatment of the Palestinians racist and as "revoltingly sinister" as was apartheid in South Africa. He then quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor".

"This story is... similar to the story of Native Americans and how they were dispossessed of their land," he said. "You may have heard there's a peace process going on... what is going to be left for the Palestinians is a state with no territorial integrity or borders with any other country other than Israel."

There were approximately 50 people crammed into a classroom at OISE to hear Kahn's speech, Jewish persons among them. His intention: To raise awareness of what's happening and to help get the Israeli Medical Association expelled from the World Medical Association. He highlighted the expulsion of the South African Medical Association from the WMA during the apartheid era as proof it can and should be done.

"The only place (Gaza residents) can go for medical treatment outside of Gaza, which has only basic health services, is through a checkpoint into Israel... the Israeli authorities decided they would only allow life-threatening cases through. They did not classify impending blindness or an amputation as life-threatening," he explained. "Even prisoners have a universal right to healthcare... the Israeli Medical Association has consistently refused to condemn the violation of healthcare rights in Palestine.

"Amnesty International concluded in 1996 the role played by Israeli doctors in interrogations is at odds with medical ethics."

Regarding the security wall that is being erected supposedly to protect Israeli settlements, Kahn said it is illegal (under international law), it rapes the landscape, and that its completion isn't about security, but "it is about water at the end of the day."
"The problem is not the wall itself, it is the route of the wall. It does not follow the 1967 (United Nations) cease fire line," he said. "This is not about religion. I can't emphasize that enough."

In some places the wall runs directly through Palestinian homes. It left an indelible mark on Kahn.

"It's like Alice in Wonderland sometimes, you think to yourself 'this can't actually be happening,' but it is," he remarked. "As for the Israeli settlements... they are more like medieval fortresses built on Palestinian land."

The doctor added there is more criticism aimed at Israeli policies coming from within Israel than there is from any Jewish community in the western world he's visited.

Kahn maintains a blog detailing his trip to the West Bank ( and he recently had a book on the subject published that he promised if read, could arm anyone with knowledge to get "into an argument with any Zionist."

"If you really want to help these people, go there," he said. "Visit these places and see them for yourself and then go home and talk about it to people you know."

Posted on 27-05-2008

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