The London-based medical journal The Lancet has a long and well-documented history of anti-Israel bias when covering Palestinian public health issues, and in July 2014 their reputation took a devastating blow after editors published an “open letter” leveling false charges that Israel committed a “massacre” in Gaza. It was revealed that two of the letter’s authors were antisemitic conspiracy theorists shown to have sympathies with the views of white supremacist David Duke.
The Lancet’s editor, Dr. Richard Horton, apologised for the letter.
Perhaps in an effort to repair the damage to its reputation following the letter and related allegations of institutional anti-Israel bias, The Lancet this year published a special issue on the Israeli healthcare system which largely praised the nation for its achievement in providing universal health coverage for its diverse population.
However, it didn’t take long for the ‘prestigious’ journal to return to form. On July 8th, they published “Caring for health in occupied Palestinian territory” by Sharmila Devi, a predictably one-sided piece blaming Israel for the healthcare challenges in the Palestinian territories. The distortions begin in the background provided in the opening paragraphs:
Israel conquered territories including the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War, 50 years ago last month. Today, some 2·9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and another 1·8 million in Gaza, live under military occupation or siege with their lives severely curtailed by Israeli Government restrictions.
First, contrary to The Lancet’s suggestion, the overwhelming majority of east Jerusalem Palestinians are Israeli residents and can travel freely throughout both Israel and the West Bank. To conflate them with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank represents a gross distortion. Also, Palestinians living in major population centers in the West Bank (Area A) live under PA military and administrative control and can not reasonably be characterised as living under “military occupation”.
It gets much worse.
Before Israel occupied the West Bank, the health-care system for Palestinians was better than in Jordan, which had administered the territory up until then, says Walid Nammour, director of the Augusta Victoria hospital in Palestinian East Jerusalem. “Our health-care indicators were superior but the legacy of occupation means we are now lagging behind”, he told The Lancet.
“Until 1967, people would come from Amman to Jerusalem for health care and now it’s the other way round. What development we have is due to better technology over time more than anything else”, he said.
The suggestion that healthcare outcomes deteriorated in Gaza and the West Bank after 1967 is simply not true. Here are the conclusions of an analysis by Dr. David Stone, Emeritus Professor of Paediatric Epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, published at Fathom Journal.
- Life expectancy in WB and Gaza increased 56% from 1967 to 2014.
- Infant mortality rates in WB and Gaza decreased dramatically.
- The under-five mortality rate (the probability that a newborn baby will die before reaching age five) in WB and Gaza similarly decreased dramatically.
- Immunization coverage in the WB and Gaza was comparable to those of Jordan, and consistently higher than those of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and even Israel.
More relevant to the specific claim made by The Lancet, the study by Dr. Stone shows that in all of these categories (life expectancy, infant mortality, under-five mortality and immunization) outcomes for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are equal to or better than such health outcomes in Jordan (which has a majority Palestinian population).
Then, after uncritically citing hyperbolic anti-Israel quotes by Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, and Mustafa Barghouti, PLO Executive Committee member, The Lancet article addressed the electricity shortage affecting Gaza hospitals. Though they acknowledged that much of the blame stems form a dispute between Hamas and Fatah, the article then levels another false allegation against Israel.
Last year, the Palestinian Health Ministry referred 4500 patients from the West Bank and Gaza to Israeli hospitals. It sent an additional 20,000 to the six hospitals in East Jerusalem, including Augusta Victoria, the only one to provide cancer treatment. But military restrictions mean that many patients, particularly from Gaza, are denied access, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
“I don’t understand why the Israelis don’t give permits [to Palestinians]. We have children with cancer who are with their grandmother or great-grandmother because the mother was refused a permit”, Nammour said. “Why are mothers deemed a security risk?”
These extremely misleading passages fails to inform readers that each year there are hundreds of thousands of medical related crossings from Gaza to Israel and West Bank. Such crossings allow Palestinian patients to be treated in Israeli or PA hospitals and Gaza doctors to receive medical training in Israel and abroad. A relatively small number of Gaza patients are denied access for legitimate security related reasons, as Hamas continuously abuses such permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.” In April, a Gaza woman was stopped at the border after attempting to smuggle explosives in medicine containers into Israel as she headed to a Jerusalem hospital for cancer treatment.
The Lancet’s Israel-only focus allows them to conveniently fail to mention a recent instance in which three infants in Gaza died after the PA refused to grant permits for them to be treated in Israel.
But, of course, The Lancet has demonstrated over the course of many years that it has little interest in exploring the impact on Gaza’s healthcare of Palestinian factional disputes, as well as Hamas’s decision to use limited resources to fund rockets and terror tunnels rather than medicine and hospitals. It prefers instead to impute causality to Israel for all conceivable Palestinian healthcare deficiencies – those real and imagined.