Physicians for Human Rights – Israel

Awarded 2010


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 a leading Israeli human rights organisation. Over more than three decades, PHRI has championed justice and struggled to secure that the right to health is granted equally to all people under Israel’s responsibility. They work to change discriminatory and abusive structures while providing services free of charge to Palestinians and others with no or limited access to health care.

PHRI is lobbying for the rights of all residents of Israel and Palestine to get the same access and right to health care regardless of their legal status, nationality, ethnicity or faith. PHRI also provides health services to those Israelis, Palestinians, refugees and migrant workers who do not receive proper health care.

PHRI was founded in 1988, at the start of the first Intifada, by Dr Ruchama Marton and Israeli and Palestinian physicians. Their motivation was the conviction that every person has the right to health in its widest possible sense, as defined by human rights and medical ethics principles. Today, it is one of Israels’ leading human rights organisations.

We struggle against wrongs that stem from human conduct, rather than the illnesses caused by viruses or microbes.

Ruchama Marton of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, 2010 Laureate


PHRI's activities are a mixture of 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 from 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 works for prisoners' health rights 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 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 campaigned against the inappropriate carrying out of anti-anthrax experiments on Israeli soldiers.

From January to July 2009, PHRI received more than 2,200 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 - 16,500 patients during this period of time. At the end of 2009, the organisation had 1000 members.

Today, PHRI is supported by more than 3,500 members and volunteers. The organisation annually provides more than 20,000 people with medical care or assistance in accessing the right to health.

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 counselled, 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, more than 5,600 Palestinians received medical care through PHRI's mobile clinics. PHRI's members supported just under 800 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to receive exit and entry permits for medical care outside of the occupied territory. They helped about 450 Palestinians navigate the Israeli health system to receive medical care in Israeli hospitals.

Founder, awards & network

The founder and continuing president of PHRI are 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, 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.

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