A Doctor’s Testimony: Medical Neutrality and the Visibility of Palestinian Grievances in Jewish-Israeli Publics

Abstract

This paper follows the testimony of Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician who bears witness to his experiences working, living, and suffering under Israeli rule. He presents his story as a doctor’s story, drawing on his identity as a medical professional to gain credibility and visibility and to challenge the limited legitimacy of Palestinian grievances. In this paper, I explore his testimony as a medical voice that at once recounts the suffering and loss endured by the Palestinian people and also struggles to negotiate the values associated with being a “reliable” witness. Consequently, I ethnographically examine the social life and reception of his story in Jewish-Israeli publics. In comparison with most Palestinian narratives, Abuelaish’s testimony achieved an extremely rare degree of visibility and sympathy, a phenomenon that calls out for analysis. I identify the boundaries that typically render Palestinian grievances invisible to Israeli publics and suggest how medicine’s self-proclaimed ethos of neutrality served as a channel for crossing them. Finally, I reflect on the political possibilities and limitations of medical witnessing to render suffering visible and arouse compassion toward those construed as a dangerous/enemy Other.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Sherine Hamdy, Adia Benton, Soha Bayoumi and Sa’ed Atshan for organizing the 2014 Clinic in Crisis symposium and this special issue of Culture Medicine and Psychiatry. My sincere thanks go to Michele Rivkin-Fish for her insightful comments and encouragement. The paper benefited greatly from suggestions made by Michele Rikin-Fish, Peter Redfield, Rebecca Stein, Ilana Feldman, Sa’ed Atshan, Michael Kennedy, Jane Thrailkill, the participants of the Clinic in Crisis symposium and two anonymous readers who read and commented on earlier drafts. I thank Khalid al-Ali for providing me with his late father’s cartoons which were published with the permission of Naji Al Ali Family. Special thanks go to Rachel Dotson, Amit Lazarus, Maayan Turgman and Leon Caleb for their much appreciated assistance and support.

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Correspondence to Guy Shalev.

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Shalev, G. A Doctor’s Testimony: Medical Neutrality and the Visibility of Palestinian Grievances in Jewish-Israeli Publics. Cult Med Psychiatry 40, 242–262 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-015-9470-7

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Keywords

  • Medical neutrality
  • Witnessing
  • Medical professionals
  • Publics
  • Israel/Palestine