American Medical Students Face Off On Gaza in The Lancet. Poor Politics, Bad Medicine.

I am on vacation but we are also at war. Thus, instead of “gathering sunshine (rosebuds, really) while ye may,” I am, instead, glued to my small computer screen, wringing my hands all the while.


Once again, the British medical journal The Lancet has allowed anti-Israel politics to invade its pages. Thus, they have published a letter signed by seven American medical students, on behalf of 753 additional medical students, who are in school in the Boston-Cambridge area; the letter is about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

This letter remains silent about civilian suffering in Israel, silent about Hamas’s vicious terrorism, both against Muslims and Jews; silent about Hamas’s use of mosques, hospitals, schools, and private dwellings as the places from which they launch their rockets and mortar against Israeli civilians and against the IDF. The letter does not dwell on Hamas’s literal use of children and women to hide among and behind– let them all be blown to bits, for this will become an anti-Israel photograph which will continue to fuel the world’s hatred against peace-loving Israel.

Now, medical students, Rebecca Braunstein, David Faleck, and David Stern have written a letter rebutting the letter The Lancet published on January 12, 2009. The Lancet has just indicated that it will publish this letter too–the first with “another view.” American medical school students from the New York City area have written this one:

“In a recently drafted letter, medical students in Boston implicate Israel in perpetrating a “disproportionate assault” that underlies the current humanitarian disaster in Gaza. While these doubtlessly well-intended individuals seek the moral high ground in calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities,” they unfortunately ignore the realities of the situation. As fellow medical students, we would be utterly remiss if we did not attempt to provide a clearer picture of the reality in Gaza and address some of the troubling points of our colleagues in their “Medical Students’ Letter of Solidarity with Gaza.” We believe that the invocation of an alleged “moral voice” in the face of a complex political situation without a full understanding of the facts is irresponsible and unprofessional.


A brief chronology of the latest saga of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is crucial to a proper appreciation of the issues involved in the current war. In August 2005, after five years of fighting in the Second Intifada with no resolution in sight, Israel unilaterally withdrew all of its soldiers and citizens from the Gaza strip in hopes of fostering a lasting peace. Since the Israeli withdrawal, however, Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization funded by Iran, has fired over 6,000 deadly rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. It is against these war crimes, the indiscriminate targeting of innocent civilians, that the Israeli military has been forced to respond. As President-elect Obama asserted in a campaign visit to Israel in July 2008, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing.” After years of restraint and after exhausting all diplomatic avenues, it is this very principle of defending its civilians, one of the foundational tenets of a democratic nation, which has driven Israel to take up arms against Hamas.

There is no question that the loss of Palestinian life in Gaza is terribly tragic and that every effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties and to provide medical aid and supplies to those suffering. While no party is blameless for the tragic Palestinian death toll, the stark contrast between Israel’s and Hamas’ treatment of the people in Gaza must be unequivocally asserted. Israel’s defense of its own citizens has gone hand in hand with extraordinary efforts to protect the civilians of Gaza. Israel distributes leaflets, sends voicemails and text messages, and uses radio and TV announcements to warn Gazan civilians to clear areas of imminent attacks. Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties through surgical strikes on military objectives, and frequently aborts key missions due to concerns for civilian casualties. Moreover, since the beginning of the war, Israel has transported thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies to ease the Gazans’ plight.


Unfortunately, Israel’s efforts to minimize harm to the civilians of Gaza have been confounded by Hamas who consistently place civilians in the line of fire. Hamas, in clear violation of international law, gathers women and children around military targets to use them as human shields. This terrorist regime endangers the people of Gaza by using civilian homes, schools, mosques and hospitals as launching grounds for rockets fired at Israeli civilians and prides itself on the number of its own people martyred to the destruction of Israel. It preys on the moral conscience of the democratic world, which places a premium on innocent lives, knowing that Israel seeks to avoid killing the very same Palestinian civilians whom Hamas militants hide behind and deem dispensable. It is these abominable tactics of Hamas that leads to the “disproportionate” number of Palestinian civilian casualties and which should evoke international condemnation and outrage.

We recognize the hardships and painful losses incurred by both sides of this conflict, but we also know that simplistic solutions based on distorted facts are not the answer. Blind calls for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” outside the context of a viable and sustainable security are short-sighted. While this may seem to be an attractive and “humanitarian” solution in the short term, it will not alleviate the plight of Palestinians who suffer under the policies of the Hamas regime nor bring safety to the civilians of Israel who currently live in terror of Hamas rockets.


Every person should rightly be pained by the death and suffering of innocent people wherever they may be. Nonetheless, espousing moral indignation in the face of a skewed and one-sided picture of an immensely complex situation simply delays finding appropriate solutions. How can a letter that calls for humanitarianism and civilian protection point to Israel’s “brutal attacks” while ignoring the countless Israeli efforts to protect Gazan civilians? Why was it deemed irrelevant to mention the significant role of Hamas in the number of Palestinian civilian deaths? It pains us that some would attempt to value the lives and security of one people over the lives and security of another, and to express solidarity with some innocents while ignoring others. As medical students committed to the sanctity and preservation of human life, we too express our grave concern for the protection of innocents and hope for a speedy but viable resolution so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and safety.”

Rebecca Braunstein, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, MSI
David Faleck, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, MSI
David Stern, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, MSII

I bless the signatories of this letter for keeping their heads about them when so many of their fellow medical students seem to be losing theirs. If a problem, whether it be medical or political, is not diagnosed properly, there can be no cure.


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