Public Health News Turns to ISM Activist for Article on Palestinian Health

“Public Health News” is a British weekly print and online journal distributed free of charge to British public health professionals, with a circulation of over 14,000. A collaborative project of such eminent professional organizations as the Royal Institute of Public Health, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, the Faculty of Public Health, and others, it provides news and features on the latest issues in this medically-related field.

It is puzzling and disturbing that such a publication would turn – not to a health professional – but to an anti-Israel activist for an article on health issues in the West Bank and Gaza. The author, Sarah Irving, is part of the notorious International Solidarity Movement, a group that justifies terrorism and supports “armed struggle” against Israel. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that her August 12, 2004 article, “Health Care Under Fire,” is short on science and long on unsubstantiated allegations against Israel. While the discipline of public health rests heavily on statistical analysis and scientific investigation, Irving uses no statistics and provides no reliable sources. Instead, she repeats a laundry list of baseless Palestinian accusations.

Indeed, at times she conflates contradictory allegations.. For example she writes:

…damaged sanitation systems and groundwater supplies appropriated or contaminated by settlements and Israeli industrial agriculture have resulted in a spread of infectious diseases and increasing child mortality rates from diseases such as dysentery and summer diarrhoea.

Why would Israelis want to appropriate contaminated water and why haven’t infectious diseases increased among Israeli settlers? In her evident zealousness to include every charge she’s heard against Israel, Irving apparently did not think through the obvious contradictions in her contention.

Irving’s allegation is discredited even by a public health article which itself is charged with having a pro-Palestinian bias. The author, T.A. Abu Mourad, working for the “Palestine Save the Children Foundation,” attributed the incidence of diarrhoea among Palestinian refugees in Gaza — not to contamination and appropriation of water sources by Israelis— but to poor hygiene, unsafe sewage disposal, and crowded living conditions. Abu Mourad’s article appeared in the March 2004 issue of Public Health and was challenged in the June issue for its highly partisan political nature (it advocated the return of all Palestinian refugees to the Jewish State, and one-sidedly indicted Israel for creating a Palestinian refugee problem). Even so, the article never even considered Sarah Irving’s accusation, nor the premise that the pattern of infectious diseases among Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza differed from that of Palestinian refugees in any other country.

In fact, the Gaza Aquifier, which provides about 96% of the water to the Gaza Strip, is under Palestinian control. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which has introduced new water collection and irrigation techniques and community enviornmental programs in Gaza, the Gaza Aquifer is becoming increasingly endangered through rampant, unregulated well-drilling and a poor Palestinian sewage disposal infrastructure.

As to Irving’s claim of “increasing child mortality rates,” this is refuted by a WHO research study (a summary of which was published in its June 2004 newsletter) which shows a 30% drop in child mortality and 31% drop in infant mortality rates among Palestinian refugees.

But such false assertions are presented as fact by the author. Irving, for example, declares:

…in the whole of Gaza, according to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, there are no facilities for chemotherapy, radiotherapy or kidney dialysis.

However, according to “Welfare Association” or “Ta’awoun,” a private, non-profit foundation supporting Palestinian society, a children’s dialysis department was established in Gaza’s Al Nasr Pediatric Hospital 1997. More recently, the organization purchased five special children’s dialysis machines and funded a dialysis training course for Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. And according to the Ta’awoun’s Web site, Gaza’s pediatric Al Nasr Hospital, “can now perform local testing, including bone marrow aspiration, and treatment with chemotherapy, according to international protocols.”

Elsewhere, Irving states that “Israeli health policy concentrates on hospital treatment, not on public health and prevention” and that this is also the pattern in Palestinian areas. This, too is false. Israel is renowned internationally as a pioneer in the theory and practice of Public Health, and according to the Palestinian Authority’s National Information Center, ( ) more than half of the health centers in Gaza “offer maternity and childhood services, vaccinations, and family planning services.”

It is clear that the author does not allow any readily available facts get in the way of her anti-Israel crusade. She uses Public Health News as a forum to air false accusations and misinformation that portray Israel as villain. Thus, she asserts that Palestinian medical personnel are beaten, humiliated or killed by Israeli forces and that ambulances are routinely shelled or held up at military checkpoints for hours. No details are provided, making it impossible to confirm these allegations and no context is given to understand the circumstances of ambulance checks by the military. She makes no mention of the fact that Israeli forces have abundant evidence that Palestinian and UNRWA ambulances (both fake and real) have been used to smuggle weapons, terrorists, and Palestinian security officers through checkpoints.

It is to be expected that an ISM activist would try use any forum to offer up a one-sided, distorted narrative villifying Israel. What is alarming is that a professional publication would allow itself to be used as a vehicle to disseminate propaganda.

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