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Israeli court says Palestinian doctors can work, as foreigners

The case of Palestinian doctors from East Jerusalem, who the Israeli Health Ministry and Council for Higher Education have prevented from working, presents Israel with a question: Are Palestinian institutions foreign or domestic?


The Jerusalem District Court this week ordered the Israeli Health Ministry to stop playing politics with the professional futures of 55 Palestinian doctors and to allow them to practice medicine in Israel.

Why were the medical school graduates of Al-Quds University denied the opportunity to work in Israeli hospitals in the first place? The Health Ministry refused to allow them to take medical certification exams because Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE) has yet to distinguish Al-Quds School of Medicine as either an accredited Israeli or foreign university, Haaretz reported.

But surely, if Israel does not consider Al-Quds University an Israeli institution of higher learning then it must be a foreign university? Not so in Jerusalem.

When a nation’s borders don’t quite end where most of the world has agreed they do (the pre-1967 borders), as is the case in Israel, determining what institutions are foreign and domestic becomes complicated. The Health Ministry’s justification for denying Al-Quds medical school alumni the opportunity to work in Israeli hospitals is largely a bureaucratic excuse based on a situation that Israel created when it annexed East Jerusalem.

Here’s the ministry’s twisted logic: one of Al-Quds University’s campuses is located within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries but others, where the majority of students attend, are located in the West Bank, including the Al-Quds School of Medicine, which is in Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem. The CHE has said it cannot recognize the university as an Israeli institution because it has campuses in the West Bank. However, the CHE also says it cannot designate Al-Quds as a foreign university because one of its campuses is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as sovereign territory.

It’s a case of Israel wanting to have it both ways, unwilling to grant the university, or its individual schools, either domestic or foreign status, which leaves Al-Quds and its students stuck in post-graduate limbo. If Israel did not hold authority over East Jerusalem, the school could easily be designated a foreign university and Palestinian students could take their licensing exams as international students. But it’s never so easy when borders and territory are disputed.

Al-Quds University chose a creative solution, deciding to split its Jerusalem and West Bank campuses into separate universities so that the CHE and Health Ministry would have no justification to not recognize the Al-Quds college in Jerusalem as an Israeli institution, and the Al-Quds college in Abu Dis as a foreign institution. Still, after years of delay by the CHE, the doctors had to turn to the Israeli legal system to compel the Health Ministry to allow Palestinian doctors to take their exams, and practice the profession they spent years studying toward.

The Israeli attorney representing the doctors, Shlomo Lecker, also represented 15 Palestinian doctors in 2009. He won that case, which resulted in the medical school graduates taking the certification exams, which they passed.

A Palestinian doctor at a clinic in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (Photo by Activestills.org)

A Palestinian doctor at a clinic in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (Photo by Activestills.org)

In June 2013, then preparing to meet with Health Ministry officials, and weighing whether he would file a court petition on behalf of the Palestinian doctors, Lecker said in an interview that the doctors he represented in the 2009 case all found jobs at Israeli medical institutions. According to Haaretz, “when the Health Ministry allowed Al-Quds graduates to take the licensing exams, they consistently scored higher than the graduates of any other foreign medical school.”

But the previous court ruling did not help the current class of Palestinian doctors from East Jerusalem; hence Lecker was representing another group of Al-Quds graduates in essentially the same case.

The effect of preventing these doctors from working has undoubtedly left some East Jerusalem patients with diminished care as a result of understaffing and fewer Arabic-speaking medical professionals in East Jerusalem hospitals. How many young Palestinian students who may have considered medical school decided not to pursue this career path upon learning they may not be able to work in the city they were born in? Or for others, not being able to work in Israel, the country in which they were born and hold citizenship?

The Jerusalem court’s ruling is a positive step that will allow doctors to work and patients to receive care from medical professionals who speak their language. But this will likely not be the last time Palestinians will find it necessary to go to court in order to compel Israeli officials to act in accordance with previous rulings. Nor the last instance in which Israel’s refusal to serve all the residents of the city, which it claims is unified, will leave Palestinians wanting of care.

If Israel insists on remaining the governing authority in all of Jerusalem and the West Bank, just as all doctors pledge, the government must promise to do no harm. Israel must decide: are Palestinian institutions and territories foreign or domestic?

Related:
Resource: The failing East Jerusalem education system
WATCH: Where kids are arrested for not having a mailbox
Living in a cage: On jail, running and the Shuafat Camp

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    COMMENTS

    1. William Burns

      And yet, somehow being located in the West Bank hasn’t prevented Ariel from being recognized as an Israeli university.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rehmat

      I must say, Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon is more educated about international law on justice than these judges.

      “Israel’s comparison with appartheid South Africa is wrong. South Africa never carried out the ethnic-cleansing of the Native Africans as Israelis are carrying-out against the Native Palestinians,” said Atzmon in an interview in December 2010.

      http://rehmat1.com/2010/12/11/gilad-atzmon-israelis-are-subject-to-palestinians-kindness/

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      Decent spin, but not much more than that.

      The University insists that its graduates be treated as foreign students despite the fact that the University operates within the sovereign borders of Israel. Effectively the University insists that Israel recognize East Jerusalem as being beyond the borders of Israel. This is why this is political.

      Reply to Comment
      • From the piece: “Al-Quds University chose a creative solution, deciding to split its Jerusalem and West Bank campuses into separate universities so that the CHE and Health Ministry would have no justification to not recognize the Al-Quds college in Jerusalem as an Israeli institution…”

        Get a less facially obvious lie.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The university may have “decided” on splitting into two universities but it most certainly hasn’t split yet. Even were it to split in the future, why would that have any impact on the credentials of the alumni who most certainly go their degrees from a university that operated in Israel?

          In other words all that we have here is BS spin.

          Reply to Comment
          • The present “deciding” is used from which you cannot infer future or present completion; I assumed the latter. “Decided” would have the same ambiguity, but is not used. However, “deciding to split,” before the second denial, has a strong implication of act completed before that denial. Present a link showing there is not present completion. You are certainly far more competent to do that than I.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Ok. I did a bit of additional research. The University has indeed made a decision to separate the schools that operate in Jerusalem into a separate college to be operated independently and under supervision of the Israeli authorities. Their request to be recognized as an independent college is currently being reviewed by the Council for Higher Education in Israel. Were the request to be approved then medical students at the University will be studying in a University that only operates in the West Bank.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Bar

      Of course, Israel should never have annexed the part of Jerusalem that Jordan ruled for 19 years while destroying Jewish synagogues and cemeteries because some Palestinian doctors might be inconvenienced.

      Fortunately, Israel has a functioning and independent court system and lo and behold, the Palestinian doctors get to work in Israel.

      Now, why do I get the impression that if Israel had not encouraged and accepted the creation of Palestinian universities, all of which were created and accredited after 1967, then you’d be complaining about Palestinian higher education. And if Israel had accepted this school’s degree as an Israeli degree, you’d be claiming that this was colonialism. And if Israel had rejected the petitions of these foreign doctors, that you’d be calling it racism?

      Let’s face it, Israel can do no right by you. Everything is fodder for attack.

      Reply to Comment
      • The issue here is right of access toward certification–taking a TEST to determine one’s medical ability.

        This matter should have been ended after the 2009 case. Why didn’t the State appeal that decision? All I can surmise is that they feared the lower court would be sustained, which would have created judicial precedent, obligating lower courts to formally approve the right to be TESTED in the future. Foregoing appeal, you force future cohorts, as this one, to go through the same proceeding again. Now why do that if you think your case right in law? Why not appeal? Or is it not the the law which matters, but keeping the racial bar as best as can be done?

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          The racial bar?

          Have you ever entered an Israeli hospital? I have. Arab doctors by the dozens; Arab nurses; Arab staff. They work alongside their colleagues, those nefarious, bigoted Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • There were Northern blacks and Southern blacks in the US. In the Jim Crow South, a Northern black was a foreigner in local minds; indeed, Southern blacks traveling to non-resident towns could be viewed with suspicion–“you not from around here.” An overlay of locale was placed on race. Here, the overlay is different point of origin WITHIN self defined Israeli sovereignty.

            Once again, the State chose not to appeal but instead employ the same bar again. I surmise the reason was to avoid precedent, thinking they would lose, so that they could retain this bar. Why retain such a bar you think will not survive an appeal? It cannot be to save the limbo status in law, for a district court already struck that down a applied; the correct action would be rather to make one’s stand on appeal.

            I suspect you well know that racism insinuates as it can within the contours of law. The fact that Israeli law protects Israeli Arabs (or resident foreigners) on certification does not mean that someone in the State will not try to prevent similar protection where there are legal gaps. Recall that the piece quotes Haaretz as “when the Health Ministry allowed Al-Quds graduates to take the licensing exams, they consistently scored higher than the graduates of any other foreign medical school.” Why force the same bar again, after a court forced test, when the first batch did well overall, passing test? Why not just let future batches go directly to the test without a court hearing?

            As the piece concludes:

            “this will likely not be the last time Palestinians will find it necessary to go to court in order to compel Israeli officials to act in accordance with previous rulings. Nor the last instance in which Israel’s refusal to serve all the residents of the city, which it claims is unified, will leave Palestinians wanting of care.”

            Previous rulings, not first blush issue. A failed appeal would have forced the lower court to grant the petition facially; without an appeal, delay, costs, and mental drain of a court challenge remains as a bar.

            Either racism as applied, mediated by control ideology unrelated to medical ability, or incompetence on the part of the State. I’ve seen enough of this in the US to make my choice.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Sigh.

            Believe whatever you like. Your logic didn’t convince me.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            There is no logic – judeophobia is a psychological disorder. Like arachnophobia or agoraphobia.

            Reply to Comment
    5. David T.

      How many mosques, cemeteries, villages, houses, wells etc. has Israel destroyed until today, Bar?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        No idea. But I do know that 1.5 million Arabs who are Muslim, Christian, Druze along with Circassians and Baha’i live in Israel with full civil and religious rights. Is that where you’re going with this? I ask because last I checked, holy Jewish sites in Palestinian-dominated areas were renamed as Muslim holy places. Come to think of it, even non-Palestinian-dominated areas are given the same treatment, as in renaming the Kotel (Western Wall – you know, the site that was closed off to Jews by the Jordanians and prior to that given only limited access to Jews by Palestinian Arabs) “al Buraq.”

        Anything else you’d like to discuss?

        Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        To be fair, they tend to leave the mosques and cemeteries. You can pray and die, but you’re not allowed to live.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Where? In Israel?

          You’re kidding, right? Highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality for Arabs in the Middle East is what you have for Israeli Arabs and also for Arabs in Judea and Samaria under Palestinian rule.

          If you mean, “to live” as in under Palestinian dictatorship without Israeli occupation, then guess what? Get Palestinian leaders to cut a peace deal and then you can just have them telling you what not to do.

          Reply to Comment