The March edition of the South African Medical Journal has a leading editorial on Israel’s recent military action in Gaza entitled “a jaw for a tooth – the human rights cost of the Gaza invasion (PDF)”.
Obviously the editor of the SAMJ can write about whatever he likes, but it still behoves me to ask the question, when did the SAMJ stop being a medical journal and become a political rag?
Although the editor, Dr Ncayiyana, attempts to paint a veneer of even-handedness over the article with a short criticism of Hamas, the inevitable thicket of bias against Israel prickles through. Dr Ncayiyana bases his article on an opinion that does not stand up to the science – in this case international law – and he also relies on hearsay, relaying some dubious Palestinian claims about Israel’s conduct during the war, as fact.
The article adds nothing to the debate. It adds no insight into the unique problems facing Israelis and Palestinians that the editor might be qualified to provide – say perhaps on something from the perspective of healthcare or caregivers in the region. Instead it’s just a simple rehash of an opinion that medical experts have zero specialist knowledge in – the popular pseudo-military view that the Israeli response was disproportionate.
Ncayiyana argues that Israel went “beyond the Biblical injunction on proportionality: ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’”. It’s an unwelcome opinion from a journal in which the standards of opinion and thought in the articles need to stand up to the highest degree of scrutiny. SHould the Journal’s editorials not require standards just as high?
Proportionality in international law requires the military to weigh the damage inflicted against the expected military gain. In this case, the expected military gain was stopping rockets from being fired indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. A medical expert such as Dr Ncayiyana should do better than to simply count numbers of dead – all nations would expect their governments to do everything in their power to provide protection from rocket attacks that deliberately target civilians.
Dr Ncayiyana mentioned Palestinian claims that the IDF “herded” 110 Palestinians, most of them coming from a single family, into a house, and then proceeded to shell the house. Whilst this may or may not be true, it is certainly one of the most contested claims of the Gaza war and deserves some level of circumspect. I don’t expect Dr Ncayiyana to sing from my hymn sheet, but I think it would be fair to at least mention that Israel has denied these claims.
Although the UN has called for an investigation into the incident, a senior UN official specifically stated that they are not accusing Israel of any “deliberate action” by the Israelis (source).
The Israeli response to the accusations was that "from initial examinations in the IDF there is no knowledge of any incident in which IDF forces moved people from one building to another.
"Furthermore, the claim that the building was attacked on January 4, in 24-hours after the IDF entered the Gaza Strip is unreasonable since the IDF forces had not yet reached the areas in question on this date.
"An Israeli television network examination of the matter with hospitals in the area showed the hospitals had no knowledge of such an incident."(source)
In the interests of assessing whether the SAMJ are indeed guilty of a disproportionate focus on Israel, I performed a simple examination of search results for conflict areas around the world. I think it makes for interesting reading. As a caveat, I must add that the search is only performed against online editions of the SAMJ, which dates back only to 2003.
|Israel or Palestine||5|
|Darfur or Sudan||0|
Of the conflict zones I tested, the only conflict zone carrying more focus than Israel was Zimbabwe, with 7 results. But the articles on Zimbabwe have at least something to do with healthcare, focusing on doctors and nurses, HIV, cholera, MDRTB and access to healthcare. The same cannot be said of the recent editorial on Israel and Gaza.
I know of a couple of people who submitted letters in response to the editorial, none of which were published. And perhaps rightly so, why should a medical journal became a playground for heated debates on Israel? The decision not to publish letters actually confirms my opinion that the editorial didn’t belong in the first place. How about this for a rule of thumb – don’t write editorials on matters that you are not prepared to publish letters on!
If you think your doctor would disagree with the nature of this editorial, get him a copy and ask him to write a complaint to the editor.