Health Care Professionals In Canada Join with PHR-Israel

By Miriam Garfinkle
May 2008

In the summer of 2006, several of us in Toronto, health care professionals, composed a letter sent to all media and MPs, speaking out against the increasing misery and destabilization of Gaza. The letter was signed by 100 health care professionals across Canada. A second letter was written in the fall of 2007 which we used to lobby various MPs and government officials, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza.

The developing humanitarian crisis in Gaza was caused largely by the withdrawal of funds by the world community, including Canada, after the election of the Hamas government. As well, in spite of the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, Israel continued its stranglehold on Gaza, continuing to occupy and control all major aspects of the infrastructure. That summer (2006) Israel invaded Lebanon and also led many incursions into Gaza resulting in many deaths in what it said was retaliation for the capture of the Israeli soldier, Captain Shalit. As well Israel’s bombings of major electrical plants in Gaza resulted in much hardship.

This crisis was superimposed on an increasingly deteriorating health care status among the population – increasing anemia in infants, stunted growth in children and general poor health from increasing poverty and deteriorating economic conditions among the people of Gaza.

In the spring of 2007, Dr. El-Sarraj, director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme in Gaza, called out to the world community for help to end the “siege of Gaza”. This siege refers to Israel’s increasing blockade of necessities leading to severe shortages and deteriorations particularly in Gaza’s health care sector.

In January 2008, Israel called Gaza a “hostile entity” because of the rockets that were being fired into Sderot in Israel and increased its stranglehold on Gaza. Hundreds of civilians were killed including dozens of children. The increasing blockade has resulted in lack of essential medications and anesthesia for surgery and made the operation of certain medical equipment such as incubators and dialysis machines, impossible. Moreover, the ability of people to leave for health reasons such as cancer treatment unavailable in Gaza, through the Erez and Rafah crossings, has been made virtually impossible. Israel says this is for “security”.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has also documented that many patients have been forced by Israel to give information about relatives or acquaintances as a condition of being allowed to exit and have been sent back if they do not provide the information.

This collective punishment of the population of Gaza has been denounced by many humanitarian organizations including Physician for Human Rights-Israel, Amnesty International and Oxfam.

In March 2008, a few of us had the privilege of meeting Dr. Zvi Bentwich, an Israeli physician who is on the Board of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. Founded in 1988, the goal of PHR-I is to struggle and advocate for human rights, in particular the right to health, for people in both Israel and the Occupied Territories. The original group was established by a group of Israeli and Palestinian physicians and about 30 percent of its active participants are Palestinians. There are currently more than 1150 members, over half of whom are health care providers.

As well as running a mobile clinic in the Occupied Territories, it also advocates for individual patients who have been blocked from exiting the Occupied Territories, particularly from Gaza, for medical treatment and have taken these cases to higher courts in Israel with some successes. PHR also runs an open clinic in Tel Aviv to provide services for those within Israel with no legal status and no health insurance and is also involved in denouncing physician participation in torture and advocating for prisoners’ health rights. Members and organizers also write pieces that document the facts on the ground. An article about PHR-Israel was recently written up in the British Medical Journal and they have recently released a report on the situation in Gaza. (see PHR-I website).

The website displays prominently the Hippocratic Oath “I will keep them from harm and injustice”.

We are now forming a Friends of PHR-Israel group here in Canada to help disseminate the important information from PHR-Israel and also to help raise awareness and increase membership for this tremendous humanitarian effort.

You can find out more from their website:
If you are interested in participating in this group, “Friends of PHR-Israel” please contact us at:

Miriam Garfinkle is primary care physician in an inner city community health centre in Toronto.