Israel and Its Health Services

The campaign against Israel, with fustian rhetoric and military assaults, continues by and on behalf of Syria, a country displaying its concern for human rights and civil discourse by slaughtering an estimated 80,000 of its own population.

It is not unexpected that the ruthless Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, though involved in a two-year civil war with rebel forces including extreme Islamists such as the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Syria, would at some point target Israeli facilities.

For more than 35 years, a virtual if conditional calm has reigned along the frontline between Israel and Syria.  On May 21, 2013, however Syria claimed that its troops had destroyed an Israeli vehicle that had crossed the cease-fire line into its territory, a claim that Israel denied for two reasons.  The vehicle was damaged but not destroyed, and no Israeli personnel were injured, and the vehicle had been patrolling on the Israeli side of a border fence.

The Israeli military had no desire for the Syrian conflict to spill over into the Golan Heights.  It is also anxious about the threat to Israel from the success of the rebel Islamist forces that have seized a 15-mile buffer zone stretching from Muzrib near the Jordanian border to Abdin in the Golan Heights, and an air base in Dara'a.  As a consequence, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have raised their alert status.

Assad had already shown his continuing hostility to Israel by cross-border gunfire from Syria, and by allowing Hezb'allah to acquire armed transfers, advanced missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, and long-range ground-to-ground missiles.  Yet the incident on May 21 was surprising both by its specific if limited intent and by its very ungraciousness.  While the Syrian civil war continues, the IDF have been authorized to help and administer first aid to Syrians -- both civilians and soldiers -- wounded in their civil war if they cross into Israel territory.  More serious cases have been evacuated to Israeli hospitals, particularly the Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat, for specialized treatment.  The identity of the wounded Syrians has not normally been released, nor is it clear whether they were loyal to President Assad or were rebels.

A familiar adage is that no good deed goes unpunished.  Not only is all this Israeli help and charity unappreciated by Syria, but it is disregarded in the international arena, and specifically by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2013.  This too is somewhat surprising.  In 2012 an international team consisting of members of the Organization for Economic and Development (OECD) and other experts examined Israel's medical services and concluded that Israel's is one of the best health care systems in the world.

The team had visited the largest hospitals in Israel, community health fund clinics in development towns and in Arab villages, and facilities of a Bedouin town in the Negev, and had met with representatives of organizations in the Arab and Ethiopian Jewish sectors of the country.  Nevertheless, the WHO was apparently unaware of this laudatory account of Israeli medical practice.

At the meeting in May 2013 in Geneva, the WHO discussed 25 items on global issues of disease and health regulations.  Only one, no. 20, discussed one specific country -- namely, Israel -- and this was on the issue of "Health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan."  Among the reports on the item were one by the Palestinians and another by Syria.  The Palestinian report spoke, in familiar fashion, of the "oppressive Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, which deprives the Palestinian citizens of their rights."  This in a sense was surprising, because Hani Abdeen, the Palestinian Authority minister of health on May 5, 2013, had visited the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where 30 percent of the child patients are Palestinians, and spoken of the fine medical care provided by Israel for Palestinians, and of the Israeli training of 60 Palestinian doctors and specialist physicians.

The ungrateful Syrians had forgotten that a just one week earlier, an operation in an Israeli hospital had saved the life of a four-year-old Syrian girl.  Their report at the WHO conference was concerned that "[t]he health conditions of the Syrian population in the occupied Golan continue to deteriorate, as a result of the suppressive practices of the Israeli occupation."

Absurd accusations at the meeting were plentiful.  Some were that Israel had been burying nuclear waste in more than 20 sites in the Golan, planting the ceasefire line with nuclear and radioactive land mines, and dumping 1,500 barrels of radioactive and toxic materials in secret landfills in the Golan.  Others expressed the view that Israel was using Arab and Syrian detainees in prison to use "testing medicines," and then brutally torturing them and extracting false confessions from them.  Less exaggerated were the allegations that Israel had created a shortage of primary and tertiary health care services owing to lack of integrated medical centers in the "occupied Syrian Golan."

Two remarks are appropriate on all this.  One is that, even admitting the existence of some inadequacies in the health condition in the disputed Palestinian territory and Golan Heights, as in all systems, the overall quality is high, as has been shown by various indicators.  This is equally true about all residents in the Golan Heights, where medical services are equal in quality to those in Israel itself.  

The other is that once again, an agency of the United Nations, this time the WHO, has been misused and lent itself to absurd and counterproductive rhetoric.  The WHO should not have been the arena where an essentially political conflict was discussed or an appropriate place for the venom of Palestinians and Syrians to be expressed.

The world would be better-served if international bodies did not abuse the rationale for their existence.  It was shameful that aside from Israel itself, only three countries -- Australia, Canada, and the United States -- voted against the resolution condemning Israel.

It is distressing to conclude that all the other countries are not genuinely interested in peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Arabs.