Anti-Israel Agitation in the Lancet

In the July 29-August 4, 2006 issue of the Lancet, a British medical journal, is an article by Sharmila Devi entitled “Gaza crisis continues to worsen as all eyes turn to Lebanon,” which promotes a distorted view of the situation in Gaza and fails to provide essential context relating to the boycott of aid to the Hamas-dominated government. Devi, a Middle East correspondent for the London Financial Times, gets basic facts wrong about the current disposition of Gaza and repeats false allegations against Israel that should have no place in a respected medical journal.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time British medical journals have allowed their pages to be used to propagate anti-Israel smears. An article by Derek Summerfield in the Oct. 16, 2004 British Medical Journal, “Palestine: The Assault on Health and Other War Crimes,” portrayed Israelis as child-killers who killed Palestinians with “utter impunity” while ignoring the extensive involvement of many of these “victims” in violence against Israelis. Additionally, as noted in a 2002 CAMERA Alert, the Lancet published a distorted and inflammatory editorial about the alleged effect of Israel’s military incursions on medical care in the territories (April 13, 2002 “Failure to address the health toll of the Middle East crisis”). The magazine excoriated Israel for the plight of the Palestinians and equated Palestinian terrorist bombings with Israel’s military response, calling both a potential “endless cycle of mutual dehumanisation.”

Among the most severe errors in the latest biased article (by Sharmila Devi) are the following:

1) Devi recites spurious allegations that Israel has used chemical and phosphorous weapons.

These sorts of charges resurface periodically and have also been leveled against the U.S. in Iraq. No serious substantiation has ever been provided. She attempts to support these charges by quoting a hospital director that many of the injured “smelt of phosphorous” and by alleging that others “mysteriously died” after being discharged from the hospital. This same hospital director accused Israel of using a radioactive weapon. For a journal that is supposedly dedicated to serious medical and scientific discourse, there should be no place for such baseless charges.

2) Devi claims that the Israeli operation in Gaza has killed “mostly civilians.” She portrays the operation as being solely in response to the “capture” of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Note her use of the word “capture” (rather than “abduction”), a prejudicial term that implies a legitimate military action rather than an unprovoked act of aggression.

Fact: A review of reports on Israel’s Gaza operation makes clear the majority of Palestinians killed in the month since the abduction of corporal Shalit have been combatants. Steven Erlanger of the New York Times reported on July 19 that 70 percent of the 103 Palestinians killed in Gaza were militants. AP reported on July 22 that most of the 15 Palestinians killed in operations on July 20-21 were combatants and AP (and others) reported that 16 out of the 24 Palestinians killed on July 26-27 were also combatants.
 
Furthermore, it is not only the abduction of Shalit that prompted Israel’s operation. The government was also responding to the unrelenting stream of Qassam rockets from Gaza aimed toward Israeli towns, a phenomenon unmentioned by Devi.

3) She writes that the Palestinians have suffered acute shortages of medicines and equipment, but contradicts her assertion deeper in the article quoting Elizabeth Sime, the head of CARE International in Gaza and the West Bank (an organization known for its anti-Israel posturing), who says, “I don’t think there’s a crisis right now because of last-minute [deliveries of medicines and equipment].” Devi even affirms that Israel provided 3 months of medical supplies to Gaza.

Fact: The Hamas government turned down an Israeli gift of 11 million dollars worth of medicine. Hamas insisted on receiving the cash equivalent instead, obviously calling into question their alleged need for medicine.

4) Devi incorrectly claims that Israel “controls all land borders” around Gaza.

Fact: Israel turned over control of the Rafah border crossing to Egypt last year when it disengaged from Gaza. Devi does not ask why supplies are not transfered between Egypt and Gaza. Maybe it’s a matter of priorities — the Hamas led government has had no difficulty illegally acquiring weapons and millions in funds for its militants.

5) Devi argues there is no justification for the aid boycott but provides no context as to why this boycott is in place. Devi confirms that the EU has supplied 329 million dollars of aid to the Palestinians through the offices of Palestinian President Abbas in order to keep cash out of the hands of Hamas, but no context is provided to explain the rationale of the boycott. There is no mention of Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy or to renounce violence. The article leaves the impression that the boycott of aid to Hamas amounts to a punitive measure imposed on the Palestinians by a mean-spirited Israel, backed by the Western powers