Established in 1988 by a group of Israeli medical doctors led by Ruchama Marton, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) was created to address what the founders viewed as the Jewish state’s multitudinous and persistent “human rights violations” against the Palestinian people. Those transgressions, said PHRI, included the “systematic and official denial of access to medical care; the intentional infliction of bodily injury, torture and neglect of prisoners; [the provision of] grossly substandard medical care and facilities in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem; [and the use of] administrative detention and solitary confinement.” In 2003, PHRI publicly reaffirmed its commitment to “only work with doctors who resist the [Israeli] occupation.”
Today PHRI claims to be “a leader in ongoing campaigns against torture, summary executions, arbitrary (administrative) detentions, and solitary confinement in [Israeli] prisons.” With particular vehemence, it condemns “physicians’ participation in the torture of Palestinian detainees by failing to prevent and/or report torture.”
Not formally affiliated with the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights, PHRI is supported by more than 3,500 members and volunteer medical professionals who, via the organization’s open and mobile clinics, provide free medical care to some 20,000 people annually. Most of the beneficiaries are migrants, refugees, and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza.
In addition to its dispensation of medical care, PHRI also uses “data collection, casework, legal action, local and international advocacy, [and] education” in its effort to “change discriminatory and abusive structures and policies towards Palestinians in the Occupied Territory, prisoners and detainees, migrant workers, refugees, undocumented persons, and Israeli residents.”
Following is an overview of PHRI’s four major departments:
1) The Occupied Palestinian Territory Department seeks to take “action against road blocks set inside [of that] territory, [against] the separation barrier, and [against] other restrictive measures which place physical and bureaucratic barriers between individuals and access to medical care.” By PHRI’s telling, “the State of Israel has no authority to erect checkpoints or roadblocks … within the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” because such restrictions on the movement of Palestinians constitute a form of “collective punishment” rather than legitimate and necessary security measures.
2) The Department of Migrants & Refugees emphasizes Israel’s “responsibility” to help all people living within its borders “without civil status,” to gain “access to healthcare.”
3) The Prisoners & Detainees Department works to “protect [the] physical and mental integrity of inmates in Israeli prisons,” where “structural faults” commonly foster “a policy of oppression and control.”
4) The Residents of Israel Department aims to “defend the Israeli public health system against the trends of privatization and … discrimination in the access to health.”
In 2009, PHRI furnished the authors of the famous Goldstone Report — which accused Israel of having committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, a defensive military operation targeting Hamas and its affiliated terrorists in Gaza in 2008-09 — with a number unfounded allegations against the Jewish state.
In April 2009, PHRI published its own report on Israeli “violations of human rights in the Gaza Strip,” asserting that Israel’s underlying objective “appears to be one of creating terror without mercy to anyone.” According to NGO Monitor, this “one-sided” report accused Israel, without evidence, of “specifically target[ing]” hospitals, mobile clinics, and ambulances; denying “wounded people access to lifesaving medical care”; using powerful “unconventional weapons” against civilians; and launching attacks against Islamic places of worship.
In October 2011, PHRI co-published a report titled “Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim,” which, on the basis of numerous unverifiable allegations, accused Israeli doctors and institutions of involvement in the “torture and ill-treatment” of Palestinians.
In June 2013, PHRI, Adalah, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel issued a joint statement that condemned Israel’s ongoing “torture-related policies and practices against Palestinian prisoners and detainees.”
In January 2015, PHRI released a report alleging that Israel had violated human rights and international legal norms during Operation Protective Edge, the Jewish state’s 2014 military response to a massive barrage of Hamas rocket attacks originating in Gaza. Notably, the report made no mention of the fact that Hamas routinely: (a) used Palestinian civilians as human shields; (b) used ambulances to transport combatants and weapons; and (c) used hospitals, schools, mosques, and private homes as launching pads for attacks, as storehouses for munitions, and as shelters for armed warriors.
During a particularly intense wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians in October 2015, PHRI and a number of fellow NGOs exhorted Israel to end its policy of “extrajudicial killings” and “collective punishment.” Peace would only be achievable, said PHRI and its NGO allies, if the Israeli government would finally “act to end the reality of ongoing and daily oppression faced by some four million [Palestinian] people who live without … any horizon for the end of occupation, and without prospects for a life of liberty and dignity.”
For additional information on PHRI, click here.