‘Israeli maternity wards segregate Jewish, Arab mothers’

An investigative report finds that numerous Israeli hospitals are openly implementing segregation. But journalists have exposed the phenomenon for at least a decade and nobody seems willing to do anything about it.

Illustrative photo of a pregnant woman being examined in a hospital. (Shutterstock.com)
Illustrative photo of a pregnant woman being examined in a hospital. (Shutterstock.com)

Despite years of denials and regulators vowing to tackle the problem, a number of major Israeli hospitals continue to segregate Jewish and Arab mothers in maternity wards across the country, according to an investigation published Tuesday by public radio broadcaster Israel Radio.

In some hospitals the segregation is unofficial policy; in others it is implemented at the behest of patients.

The segment on Israel Radio included recorded conversations with three separate hospitals in which a Jewish reporter posed as an expectant mother shopping around for a maternity ward.

The reporter asked a maternity nurse in each hospital whether after giving birth she could avoid being placed in the same room as a non-Jewish (read: Palestinian) woman.

“That’s not a problem, we always do that,” answered a maternity nurse at the Mt. Scopus campus of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.

Is that an official policy of the hospital? The reporter followed up.

“Of course,” the nurse responded. “Especially in the maternity ward… we always try to arrange separate rooms.”

Another hospital, Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, told the reporter that it couldn’t guarantee a segregated room but that the maternity staff always tries to keep Jews and Arabs separate. “We try not to mix,” even when patients don’t request it, a representative was recorded as saying.

Two hospitals, Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva and Rambam in Haifa, were found to not practice segregation in maternity wards.

Nothing new

The phenomenon of segregating Jewish and Palestinian women in Israeli hospitals is far from new, and it has been reported by major media outlets for at least the past decade.

A 2006 article in Haaretz highlighted the practice in two hospitals in northern Israel. One of the hospitals defended the policy at the time citing “differences in mentality” among Jewish and Palestinian patients.

Six years later, in 2012, the Ma’ariv daily newspaper did an undercover investigation in which it found identical results at some of the exact same hospitals that Israel Radio exposed as implementing segregation. “We try to not put Arabs in the same rooms [as Jewish women],” a Ma’ariv reporter was told in the maternity ward of Kfar Saba’s Meir Medical Center at the time.

All of the exposés on the phenomenon over the past decade included statements from hospital administrators and even Ministry of Health officials rejecting any policies or practices of segregation in the provision of health services, specifically in maternity wards. The Knesset has even held parliamentary hearings into the matter over the years.

And yet the practice continues and nobody seems to be willing or able to put an end to it.

Not just in health care


Of course, segregation also occurs outside of the medical system in Israel. Inside Israel proper education is almost entirely segregated, and housing is largely segregated, especially in smaller communities where officially sanctioned systems are in place to ensure ethno-religious homogeny. Across the West Bank, a massive system has been built to ensure segregation in housing, buses, roads, legal systems, and even some streets. And a majority of Jewish Israelis support that segregation.

And even in the Israeli health system segregation does not only take place along Jewish-Arab divides. In 2012 the Health Ministry ordered hospitals across the country to put African asylum seekers into isolation. That was after Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center was found to be implementing far purely racist isolation policies.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), a member of the ruling coalition, tweeted out a particularly racist diatribe in defense of the maternity ward segregation on Tuesday.

After claiming that Arab families are louder than Jewish families after giving birth, the hyper-nationalist and admittedly homophobic lawmaker added: “it is natural for my wife to not want to lie next to somebody who just gave birth to a baby that might want to murder her baby in 20 years. That’s the most natural, normal thing in the world.”

Pushing back

Anti-racism group Tag Meir, a group usually demonstrates on-the-ground opposition to Jewish settler violence, announced on Tuesday that it was planning a direct action in response to the report on segregation in maternity wards.

The group was calling on activists to come hand out flowers to both Arab and Jewish women in the maternity ward of the Mt. Scopus campus of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Activists held a similar action following a notoriously racist and Islamophobic annual march through Muslim neighborhoods of the Old City of Jerusalem last year.

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