Gaza and the SAMJ: A reply to the SAJBD

Dr. Aayesha Soni says the journal was right to remove Dr Bridget Farham as editor

The article “SAJBD calls for reinstatement of Dr Bridget Farham as editor of SAMJ” by Wendy Kahn refers. The article is written by somebody who is completely unaware of the situation. Kahn has portrayed numerous false claims, and it is imperative that an objective and factual view be put forward, coming from the person who the initial editorial in question was directed to and impacted the most. That would be me. I therefore found it prudent to set the record straight, as the picture painted of that of an editor “ousted” on unfair grounds and having her “freedom of speech” imposed upon is wholly inaccurate.

I am a frequent commentator on the conflict in Gaza and was approached by a colleague to write an editorial for the SAMJ on the current situation. The focus would be, as have all my writings in the past, on the systematic weaponisation of health by Israel in Gaza- the way healthcare facilities and healthcare workers have been deliberately and inhumanely targeted and killed.

This isn’t a novel concept, and the sheer scale of health care destruction in Gaza has attracted the outcry of doctors around the world. Reports have been published in reputable journals, including The Lancet and British Medical Journal. In his editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr Matthew Wynia from the Centre for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado made three unimpeachable points:

– First, health professionals should condemn dehumanisation and acts of genocide.

– Second, health professionals should vigorously oppose both antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred.

– Third, health professionals have special responsibilities to speak out against certain war crimes.

Dr Wynia asks how can “health professionals of goodwill” have a disagreement about the targeting of medical workers and medical institutions, or indeed how can they disagree about the killing of civilians, including those who are injured and sick in hospitals? There is room for debate over what must be done when confronted by the evidence of attacks on medical workers, but there is no ambiguity about their illegality and immorality.

Israel is guilty of the above, of that there is no evidence lacking from multiple human rights resources, and this has dated back to before October the 7th. Speaking out against it in all forms is our moral obligation to the healthcare workers in Gaza and Palestine, and so it would be make sense that South Africa’s main academic medical journal would do so too.

My article was fact based with 20 references and unemotive- it is now published as a scientific article in the South African Journal of Bioethics and Law as evidence of this. However, Bridget Farham, in her capacity as the SAMJ editor, replied to me saying that she found it one-sided, and incomplete without me mentioning the events of October the 7th.

I replied that I could gladly write about the politics of the 75 year-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian land for many pages, but that I didn’t think that would be appropriate for an academic medical journal and that my focus was on the war on healthcare, similar to my colleagues around the globe. Further, the morality of the events of October the 7th are not simple to condemn, and they must be viewed in the context of an occupied people entitled to armed resistance against their occupier, a tenet supported under international law.

I lastly added that I am well aware that taking a definitive stance against the horrific actions of Israel will always come with backlash and repercussions, however, history has shown us that it is at times like this people of true courage are exposed when willing to do that, in spite of the possible personal ramifications. At times like this, silence is complicity.

Instead of engaging me further over personal email, she decided to address her concerns in an editorial. This was a gross abuse of her power. Further, I find it unacceptable that what I said in the email was misconstrued to express her own personal opinion on the platform of an academic journal. I was referred to personally, as well as the article I had originally sent to her for consideration (by title). Her conduct has tarnished the reputation and credibility of the SAMJ, which I do not believe her lacklustre apology makes up for.

This goes against the ethics of an editor and I applaud Dr Mzukwa and the leadership at SAMA for the apology that was released after the publication of her editorial. The genocide in Gaza didn’t cost Farham her job and there was “no forced resignation or torrent of abuse” as Kahn lies about - Farham’s actions, her personal biases on the situation and her abuse of power as an editor did.

The weaponisation of health negates the right to exist and resist. IBy instilling fear, physical and psychological trauma, the weaponisation of health is instrumental to forcibly displace Palestinians, by means of rendering Gaza inhabitable and hostile.

Any credible commitment to health justice must see both the ongoing and long-standing violence against healthcare workers and attacks against healthcare in this context as an extension of the systematic campaign of violence and oppression against the Palestinian people. As South African healthcare workers, we must join the call of millions around the world demanding justice, and cannot have editors using their platform to express personal agendas.

Dr Aayesha Soni is a specialist neurologist and medical volunteer with the Gift of the Givers. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans 2017 and News24 100 Future Young Mandelas 2018.