Physicians for Human Rights-Israel

(2010, Israel)

...for their indomitable spirit in working for the right to health for all people in Israel and Palestine.


Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) is an organisation of Israeli and Palestinian physicians that stands at the forefront of the struggle for human rights - particularly the right to health - in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

PHRI lobbies the state of Israel, demanding that all residents of Israel and Palestine get the same access and right to health care regardless their legal status, nationality, ethnicity or faith. PHRI also provides health services to those residents of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory who otherwise would not receive proper health care.

Contact Details

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel
9 Dror St. Jaffa
Tel Aviv 68135

Fax: +972-3-6873029



PHRI's mission

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) was founded in 1988 at the start of the Intifada by Dr. Ruchama Marton and Israeli and Palestinian physicians, motivated by the conviction that "every person has the right to health in its widest possible sense, as defined by the principles of human rights, social justice and medical ethics".

PHRI's activities are a mixture between the direct delivery of health and health awareness services (e.g. through its clinics) to disadvantaged populations, and campaigning against bureaucratic restrictions that prevent these populations gaining access to mainstream health services and against the policies and repression that create the disadvantage in the first place.


PHRI's work is organised in a number of departments:

  • Clinics: a mobile clinic taking health services to excluded populations in the occupied Palestinian territory; women's clinics working to empower Palestinian women within their society by raising their awareness of health-related issues; and an Open Clinic in Jaffa, which sees over 100 patients each evening.
  • The Prisoners and Detainees Department working for the health rights of prisoners and detainees and against injurious solitary confinement, torture, and other inhuman treatment of prisoners.
  • The Migrants and Undocumented People Department, which campaigns for the concept that any person resident in Israel should be entitled to social rights (health, welfare and education) regardless of his or her legal status.
  • The Department for Status-less Persons, including the Open Clinic, servicing over 250,000 people residing in Israel without civil status including foreign workers and their families, asylum seekers from around the world, Palestinian women and children in Israel who lost their status following the 2003 Citizenship Law, collaborators and alleged collaborators from the West Bank and Gaza, victims of human trafficking, and many others living in Israel without legal status.
  • The Residents of Israel Department, advocating for a more inclusive Israeli public health system that eliminates the health inequalities between Israeli residents living in peripheral rather than central districts, between Arab and Jewish citizens, and between poor and rich communities, and that includes a broader basket of health services.
  • The Right to Health in the Unrecognised Negev Villages project, seeking to promote the right to health for the 180,000 Bedouins living in Israel. Most cannot access basic health care; their villages lack sufficient medical clinics, mother child health care clinics, and gynaecological, paediatric, and other specialist services. Further, Bedouins live without the underlying determinants of health like clean water, electricity, and a hazard-free environment.
  • The Occupied Palestinian Territory Department, which campaigns among other things against the extreme difficulties that residents of the occupied territories experience when they have to cross checkpoints for medical reasons.

PHRI has also started campaigning against the inappropriate carrying out of anti-anthrax experiments on Israeli soldiers.

From January to July 2009, PHRI (all departments) received 2259 appeals by individuals from different communities whose right to health was violated and who needed representation vis-a-vis the authorities. These applications for assistance are in addition to the individuals who come to PHRI's clinics for direct medical aid - 16,599 patients during this period of time. PHRI's volunteer medical staff donated 9179 work hours and its administrative volunteers and translators 3886 work hours. At the end of 2009, the organisation had 1000 members.

Gaza closure: Continuing the work under most difficult circumstances

With the Gaza closure and Israel's attack on Gaza in 2008 the work of PHRI has become even more difficult. That year, for the first time and due to Israel's closure of the Gaza crossings, which made it extremely difficult for Palestinian patients to cross the border, PHRI started taking its mobile clinic into Gaza as well as the West Bank, making eight medical trips and four deliveries of medical equipment. Hundreds of patients were examined and counseled, and 37 surgeries performed, as well as two trainings conducted to treat emotional trauma. In 2009, PHRI only got permits for three such trips.

Between January and June 2010, 5620 Palestinians received medical care through PHRI's mobile clinics. PHRI's members aided 787 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to receive exit and entry permits for medical care outside of the occupied territory, and helped 454 Palestinians navigate the Israeli health system to receive medical care in Israeli hospitals.

Founder, Awards & Network

The founder and continuing president of PHRI is Dr. Ruchama Marton. In the late 1990s, Marton was especially active against the torture of Palestinian prisoners, her campaign culminating in 1999 with the Supreme Court making it illegal. Later that year, she and PHRI received Israel's highest human rights honour, the Emil Grunzweig Award for Human Rights. Marton, and the Palestinian Salah Haj Yehya, who is PHRI's Field Work Director, received the Jonathan Mann Award in 2002.

PHRI is a member of the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations. It is funded by a range of national and international foundations and companies.


Acceptance Speech by Dr. Ruchama Marton, PHRI

6 December 2010

Dear Mr. Speaker and members of Parliament, dear fellow Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, Excellencies, dear Friends,    

In January 1988, less than a month after the outbreak of the first INTIFADA - the Palestinian uprising against Israeli Occupation - I gathered together a group of eleven Israeli physicians and we went to visit Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.

That visit was a shaking event. We witnessed first-hand the results of the Israeli reaction to the civil uprising: gun-wounds, people who had been clubbed about the head to the point of unconsciousness, youngsters with broken hands and feet, and more. Shocking too was the state of the medical facilities, especially when we considered the cutting-edge technological standards we were accustomed to in our hospitals inside Israel. Al-Shifa Hospital was a government institution, which meant it was under the supervision and responsibility of the Israeli occupying authorities. Why then - we asked ourselves - was it not of a similar standard to our own? Why were the Palestinian doctors subordinate to a military regime, constantly threatened on political grounds?

More than two decades have passed. From a pioneer organization that introduced the concept of human rights to the Israeli public, we have evolved into a leading human rights organization. Founded by a woman, and led by women, we established a model of feminist grass-roots social leadership, one that was quickly emulated by others. Within a year or two following the founding of PHR Israel, new NGOs led by women were established, making it clear that feminist activism had widened its scope from struggling strictly for women's rights to a new capacity in which the whole world was theirs to change. 

PHR Israel is now a somewhat older, more established organization, but our commitment to our values has not faltered. We are as resolute in our action and advocacy for ending the occupation, in our struggle for the right to health of Palestinians living under occupation, and of all prisoners and detainees. At the same time we also widened our activities to protect and promote the right to health of the marginalized communities within Israel: migrant workers, asylum seekers, residents of the unrecognized Bedouin villages, the poor and those citizens of Israel who suffer discrimination. PHR Israel works in the 'back yards' of Israeli society, back yards that many don't want to see, and don't care about.

Indeed, in Israel today, the discourse of human rights is commonplace. Yet the respect for human rights is not! Recently there is growing denunciation of members of our Human Rights community as traitors. Our demand for true equality and our alternative world view to the militaristic approach in education and policy making are the main cause for that denunciation. The attack is multi-layered; it comes via legislation, the media, right wing academics and NGOs. 

It is a moment of test; it is a moment where a human rights organization under threat should make its stand even clearer and more vocal than before. Physicians for Human Rights Israel - I am sure - will rise to this task, because for us, the moral and legal traditions of human rights, ideas of social justice, and the principles of medical ethics are combined with a feminist worldview of partnership and solidarity.

My way as a woman activist started long before I established PHR Israel, long before I knew what radical feminism was, or had had the chance to read some theoretical thinking. I struggled as a female soldier in a male-dominated militaristic society, later against the discrimination of female students in the medical school where we were asked to be grateful for the 10% quota allocated to female students. All these experiences and others served to train me for a life of activism and enabled me to found PHR Israel and to give it this inherent belief that working for human rights must be done with and not just for the community.

We are part of the community; we are citizens just as we are physicians, thus our obligation to social justice and human rights. We raise our voice with the voiceless: the tortured victims, prisoners, and all the disempowered people and groups in our society. 

We struggle against wrongs that stem from human conduct, rather than the illnesses caused by viruses or microbes. We invest in advocating for changing the system or policy that causes the suffering we encounter every day in our clinics and interventions. Our radical political work has influenced various aspects of the Israeli health system and we played a vital role in the Israeli high court ruling against torture. Yet much is still to be done.

Solidarity is our guiding principle in our work with Palestinians and with other disempowered and excluded communities. We try our best to avoid patronization and reject the philanthropic approach. While engaged in direct medical actions for individuals in our mobile and open clinics, or while advocating for individuals whose rights are violated, we learn of the causes of those people's lack of access to adequate health care, and commit ourselves to finding a radical solution to the problem and demand accountability from those in power.  

We are constantly fostering critical thinking that empowers us against the temptation of the "bear hug" of the mainstream. Because, let me assure you, many wish to silence us by diverting us to charity or to humanitarian work which carries no political message. We do know that there is no Humanitarian solution to humanitarian crises. We know that a Humanitarian crisis is an outcome of political cause and bad will. Hunger, even if caused by a natural disaster, can be better resolved by a just political action. In our region - the disaster is man-made. 

For all of us, in PHR Israel in particular and for the human rights community in Israel in general, the award comes at a perfect time. It empowers our friends, volunteers and members - without them our work would not have been possible - in one of the most challenging times in Israeli society. We live in a society that chooses to live a life of deception: believing that Israelis are the only victims; that the long occupation is necessary for security; that we are a true democracy with no racism or xenophobia, no apartheid regime. Voices like ours are attacked so as to silence us. Your supporting voice might have an essential influence on public opinion and policy makers in Israel. 

For all of us, this award gives a moment of pride and recognition to lives of continuous struggle that is often rebuked, lonely and rejected. It is not an easy decision for a physician or nurse to join PHR Israel. They are criticized by their peers for being "political", as if medicine can be a neutral profession. Because health is used by the regime as a means of controlling its citizens, of undocumented people and Palestinians under occupation, it is through the right to health that we can best struggle against such control and oppression. 

Today, when different NGOs are being delegitimized, especially those advocating human rights for Palestinians under occupation, or striving to achieve a more inclusive society, doctors might be hesitant to join us. The State becomes more and more ethnocentric, and democratic values are compromised. Society becomes less and less tolerant as it marks Israeli Palestinian citizens as "fifth columnists"; asylum seekers as a danger to the Jewish character of the State; Anti-Occupation activists and the Human Rights groups as a threat to the existence of the State, as if the only way to maintain Israel is via military control, oppression and humiliation of the other. The result of this well-coordinated attack is a restriction of the discourse - of the public debate that is so essential to any democratic process. At this point in time the award not only gives recognition to past achievements, but plays a significant role in supporting our present struggle. 

I feel honored to stand here today, in the company of the other laureates. Being acknowledged as having similar resilience and achievements to theirs is the best reward I could have hoped for. Being one of you is extremely important since I myself, and PHR-Israel, are in great need of moral support and recognition. 

I humbly accept this award in the name of Physicians for Human Rights' wonderful and relentless staff, board, volunteers, and membership; in the name of our dear Palestinian partners from the occupied Palestinian territory; and in the name of all who support us. From Israel and from the Occupied Palestinian Territory I bring you back their gratitude, and their commitment to building societies that we will not be ashamed of, but rather proud of for their conduct towards human rights.

Let us join voices and be heard loud and clear. For Silence is the language of complicity, but speaking out is the language of change.

Thank you very much.


Interviews with Dr. Ruchama Marton, founder of PHRI

Interview conducted in September 2010

Q: Is the model of Israeli and Palestinian health workers and doctors working side by side a model reproducible in other sectors in Israel as well?

A: This model that brings together health workers from the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel is unique. We know of no other cooperation on the same scale in other fields and professions.

Q: What was the spark that ignited the idea and mission of PHRI?

A: The answer would be a mixture of different elements: reality and personality. The reality is that back in December 1987 and a bit later in the Gaza Strip and also on the West Bank, there was military aggression against civilians and violations of human rights hidden by a curtain of official lies.

The personality aspect is my own personal sensitivity to political (and interpersonal) lies and the feeling that if I do not speak out, I'm collaborating with what I think is wrong.

This sensitivity to such issues has been with me since I was about 19 years old, serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). There are mainly three reasons for this: a feminist point of view in a male dominated world like the army, an immature sense of fighting against injustice and a psychological shock being a witness to terrible killings by soldiers - 'my' soldiers.

With age, the two elements have fused into one and become a solid part of me.

When the first intifada started in 1987-8, I clearly sensed that the Israeli media lied and I decided to go to Gaza to find out what was really going on there. For 3 weeks I called doctors asking them to come with me to Gaza to find out what the real situation was. We went to Gaza for one day, visiting the El Shiffah hospital, talking to doctors, patients and health workers, and in the evening, on our way home, we decided to continue to monitor human the rights' situation and to speak out against the violations of Palestinians' bodies and souls. 

Soon enough, reality exposed us to other issues in the occupied Palestinian territory and within the Israeli society, which we believed were of concern to our work.

Now, after 23 years, our hands are full with work in struggling for the right to health of all the different groups under the Israeli control.

Q: Describe one or two situations or obstacles that your patients often encounter when they try to get medical care and how you try to resolve those.

A: a) A Palestinian patient who lives in Gaza and needs advanced care which is not available in Gaza will need an Israeli permit to exit the Gaza Strip. He will be subjected to both security prohibitions and complex bureaucracy. Examples: he can be subjected to pressure to give information to the General Security Service (GSS) in exchange for the permit. If his illness is not severe and he has some background of resistance to the occupation, he can be rejected. Sometimes, even when a person's health situation is acute, he might be rejected. PHR Israel sends his medical reports to our experts, who analyze the ramification of withholding medical care and we appeal in his name to the Israeli authorities, turn to the media to create pressure, and in truly difficult cases, we turn to foreign embassies and Knesset members (MKs). 
b) A migrant worker insured in a private insurance company could be refused her medical care on the pretext of a variety of reasons: she had the illness before she was insured is a common one, she loses her ability to work and thus she is only entitled to the airfare home etc. PHRI will then send her medical documents to its volunteer physicians to go over them, and sometimes she will be examined by our own doctors. We prove that her illness is new, or that she is not losing her ability to work, and then - if need be - we will go to court. We also complain to the controller at the insurance companies.

Above all - we hold a campaign to transfer the insurance from private commercial companies to the public health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

Q: How do you find your volunteers?

A: We recruit our volunteers by:

- giving lectures in hospitals, faculties of medicine and nursing schools and we invite them to come and experience our clinics, or help with our advocacy;

- we encourage our members to recruit their friends; and

- after a good exposure in the media, we usually get a few requests to join PHRI.



Download PHRI's semi-annual report, Jan-July 2010


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