A Doctor's Duty in a Palestinian Prison Camp in Israel

Ishay Lev, MD

In This Article


A guard barged into the clinic's tent shouting something about Cell Block 5: "He collapsed...the whole cell is storming the fences, come quick." The medics, 30- to 40-year-old reserve men who were now on break from their daily jobs as insurance salesmen and the like, acted as if they didn't hear a thing. They continued playing chess until one of them remarked, "It's the same guy from Saturday -- he was evacuated and examined at the hospital -- it's nothing." A few brisk, but friendly orders made them realize that I was serious as they rushed to get the medic bag and a gurney.

The "cell" blocks were actually outdoor compounds of tents and showers enclosed by fences and barbed wire. As we ran over, we saw almost a hundred men trying to bring the fence down, shouting "Doctor! Doctor!" The soldiers were standing in front of them pointing their guns at the crowd silently, angry, and maybe, frightened. We rushed over. The gate was already open as we approached, but there was nothing happening. The medic who was with me observed the scene casually as if it were an action movie and the end were not really relevant.

I grabbed the gurney, opened it, and took it into the cell. The inmates put their friend on the gurney and brought him out. I took his hand and looked at him -- he looked OK -- he was breathing; the hand was warm and of normal muscle tone and the pulse was full and regular. I sent him on to the clinic. As I came back, I stood over him and put my hand on his shoulder. I looked into his half-closed eyes for a minute and asked him in Arabic what was bothering him; he started to cry.

The rest of the examination and a liter of intravenous saline transfusion were performed not because of the urgent medical need, but because both of us wanted to keep things as "medical" as possible. I didn't ask myself what happened exactly and why the camp almost went into a riot; I did my job -- that's why I thought I was there. I asked myself why I was endangering myself by going into the cell block with the gurney, and I suddenly realized that I was acting as accepted by an adult figure -- one of the only ones there! A heavy load of loneliness and responsibility was suddenly back on my young physician shoulders.