More than 1,200 Canadian physicians have signed a letter condemning a scathingly anti-Israel article published by a world-renowned British medical journal that’s drawing heated responses from doctors here and abroad.
“An open letter for the people in Gaza,” written by five doctors and signed by 24 others was published July 23 by the Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal. It criticizes “the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called ‘defensive aggression.’”
Among the many charges in the piece, the authors accuse Israel of attacking hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools and press buildings, and of “clearly directing fire to target whole families killing them within their homes… This is way beyond the purpose of finding tunnels. None of these are military objectives. These attacks aim to terrorize, wound the soul and the body of the people.”
When Dr. Nathan Stall, a resident physician at the University of Toronto, saw the article, he immediately contacted his research partner, Mount Sinai Hospital physician Dr. Chaim Bell, and said, “What are we going to do about this?” Bell told The CJN.
In a letter to the editor penned by Stall, Bell and three other Canadian doctors – Philip Berger, Joel Ray and Tali Bogler – they take the article’s writers to task for their “glaring biases” and for failing to declare their conflicts of interest.
“Swee Ang is founding trustee of Medical Aid for Palestinians and Mads Gilbert is a representative of the pro-Palestinian Norwegian Aid Committee, both organizations are hostile to Israel,” the letter said.
Gilbert was also quoted in a Norwegian newspaper in 2001 saying that he was in favour of the 9/11 terrorist acts on the World Trade Center in New York.
The letter was sent via email to hundreds of Canadian physicians, and within 24 hours, they collected 1,234 signatures, Bell said, adding that they’ve received an outpouring of gratitude, particularly from Israeli physicians who appreciate their efforts.
“It’s a very emotional time for people, especially Israelis who feel isolated,” he said.
Although Stall said he and his co-writers have received some criticism from supporters who say their letter is not as hard-hitting as it could have been, he said the reason they chose to focus on the conflict of interest rather than counter each of the article’s claims was to show that they respected the scientific process.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for medicine, for science, to be exploited for politicking and for the promotion of hate, and for me that’s what crossed the line in this instance,” Stall said.
Bell and Stall did counter one point made in the article, which accused all Israeli academics who didn’t sign an appeal to their government to stop the war of being “complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza.”
“Some might not agree with all the text in the written appeal, others might not have seen it, and many of our Israeli colleagues are in bomb shelters as rockets are sent from Gaza targeting civilians of all faiths,” they wrote.
Since the original letter to the editor was posted on the Lancet’s website, a number of other rebuttals have been written by members of the medical community around the world.
Israeli doctors Tamir Wolf and Shachar Aharony wrote one that that was published in the Lancet July 30.
“Over the past decade, Hamas has received billions of dollars in foreign aid. Instead of building schools and hospitals, Hamas enriched its leadership and invested in weaponry, tunnels, and ammunition bunkers… For Israel, civilians are never a target. Unfortunately, it seems that Hamas’ tactics ensure maximum civilian casualties among their own people. Israel should not apologize for its low death rates. It has spent billions of dollars on developing the world’s most advanced civil defence systems. Hamas has done nothing for its citizens.”
In an email response to a doctor who challenged the decision to publish the article, the Lancet’s editor-in-chief, Richard Horton, wrote, “All I can say at present is that the disproportionate loss of life among children and women in Gaza is telling us something important about the disproportionality of force being used by one side in this conflict.”
Requests for comment from the article’s authors were either declined or went unanswered.