Medicine and the Politics of Neutrality: The Professional and Political Lives of Palestinian Physicians in Israel Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Shalev, Guy
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • The Israeli public health system is one of the few arenas in which Arab and Jewish citizens collaborate in their day to day work, with Palestinian citizens comprising 11% of practicing physicians. This dissertation examines how medicine’s ethical framework of universality and political neutrality affects social dynamics in healthcare settings in a context of national conflict. The study is based on 22-months of ethnographic research, including fieldwork in two hospitals and an analysis of in-depth interviews and media content. It demonstrates how Palestinian physicians navigate a delicate balance between ideals of medical neutrality and expressions of suspicion and hostility on the part of Jewish patients and colleagues. In Israel, the ethos of a politically neutral health sphere is a ‘shared fiction’ that is propagated by government officials, hospital administrations, ethics committees, physicians, and patients. An ideal that is loosely based on humanitarian ideas of medical neutrality and professional ethics’ principles of impartiality. But it is hyperbolized to encapsulate entire institutional spaces where “politics” is considered out of bounds. This work looks into the practice of maintaining the Israeli health system hygienically clean from ‘politics.’ The making of an exceptional space within which all non-medical considerations are perceived to be suspended. Yet, this classification of ‘neutral’ and ‘political’ is inconsistent. The rules of purity and pollution are applied selectively to Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian physicians and neutrality emerges as an antipolitics that suppresses Palestinian nationality. For Palestinian physicians, upholding ideas of neutrality is critical for their personal survival in the Israeli medical sphere, to maintain a professional identity, and advance a medical career. But they are also painfully cognizant of the limitations of this selectively applied ideal. In making visible Palestinian citizens’ efforts to shape their individual and collective conditions of existence through medical practice, this dissertation illuminates how ideologies of the medical sphere shape their struggle in distinctive ways. It analyzes medicine and healthcare as spaces of micro-level struggles for equality and recognition, and demonstrates how ideas of neutrality serve as fungible political tools in the hands of both hegemonic elites and counter-hegemonic forces in a national conflict.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Chua, Jocelyn
  • Rivkin-Fish, Michele
  • Redfield, Peter
  • Stein, Rebecca
  • Filc, Dani
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

This work has no parents.