Ruchama Marton: A voice from Israel against hatred and revenge

Dr. Ruchama Marton

Gabriela Neuhaus writes in Pressenza International Press Agency on 24 February 2024:

It is 20 years now that we accompanied the Mobile Clinic of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR‑I) on a mission in the West Bank and the Negev for our documentary film “1000 Women and a Dream”.* Back then, we portrayed Israeli psychiatrist Ruchama Marton, who has been campaigning against Israel’s claims to power and in favour of equal rights for all people living between Jordan and the Mediterranean since her military service in the 1950s. She founded PHR‑I in 1988 in response to the lack of healthcare in the occupied territories.

Since then, mixed teams of Jewish and Arab health professionals have held regular consultations on-site to ensure that sick people receive medical help regardless of their religion or origin. PHR‑I have been repeatedly honoured for their commitment, including the Right Livelihood Award in 2010 “for their indomitable spirit in working for the right to health for all people in Israel and Palestine”.

Back in 2004, on the occasion of our filming, Dr. Ruchama Marton already criticised sharply Israel’s policy of separation, which was cemented by the construction of the wall: “So now, with this separation, the anti-separation thing is to cross the border and to meet the people on a personal level and also on a political, to tell them: We are against this, and we are willing to co-work.”

The now 86-year-old doctor still adheres to this credo. She is part of a tiny minority in Israel who continue to campaign for equality and human rights in Israel and Palestine. She wants her analysis of the current situation on the occasion of our telephone interview on 7 February 2024 to be understood as an appeal to the world, and especially to us people in Europe and the US.

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20 years ago, we accompanied you and the Mobile Clinic of the PHR‑I to the West Bank. Even then, the people there suffered enormously under the Israeli occupation régime. How do you assess the situation today?

It is as bad as it can be. There is no way to compare the situation 20 years ago with what is happening now within Israeli society and between Israelis and Palestinians. The right-wing has won in practically every aspect: In public life as well as in government. This also applies to religious thinking, which is at an almost primitive level. It is characterised by hatred and a desire for retribution. Since October 7, 2023, the desire for revenge has been the predominant feeling in the Israeli-Zionist public and government.

Are the population and the government so united on this issue? Last year, thousands protested in Israel against the right-wing government and its planned judicial reform. What has become of this movement?

I didn’t go to any of these demonstrations against the government because these protests were not about the occupation, the apartheid policy, or the terrible things that Israel is doing to the people in Gaza and the West Bank. I didn’t trust this movement – and unfortunately, I was right: after October 7th, many people who had previously taken to the streets reported to the army and wanted to kill Palestinians. Revenge has been the main theme ever since. This shows how deeply rooted anti-Palestinian feelings are in our society.

Nevertheless, a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that a majority of the population now considers the most important goal of the war to be rescuing the hostages rather than destroying the Palestinians.

The Israeli government doesn’t give a damn. We know this from the past. Twenty years ago, I wrote a letter to the Israeli government at the time in connection with a prisoner exchange in which I suggested: Please release all Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Let them take a hot shower, give them new clothes and a parcel with sweets and children’s toys. Put them on the best buses we have and bring them back to Gaza and the West Bank in a respectful way. Without asking for anything in return. – Such an unexpected move would be a «game changer» and could decisively change relations between Israel and the Palestinians, I am still convinced of that today. But it won’t happen. The current Israeli government is prepared to sacrifice the lives of all prisoners and doesn’t give a damn about their fate.

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