Physicians for Human Rights official detained by Shin Bet

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

A senior official for Physicians for Human Rights was questioned by the Shin Bet recently on the activities of the organization, its budget, the identity of its donors, and details about others employed by PHR.

The director of the mobile clinics run by the organization, Salah Haj Yihyeh, an Israeli who lives in Taibeh, was questioned about the meetings between PHR representatives and Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip. Among those the PHR officials met were the Hamas speaker of Parliament and the minister of health.

During the questioning, the Shin Bet asked about Yihyeh’s membership in the Al Aqsa Foundation, and comments he had made in the media. He was also asked for his telephone numbers.


Explaining that details of his personal life were already known by the Shin Bet, the interrogator asked: ”Would you mind if I called you once a while?”

Yihyeh had organized teams of doctors who are members in PHR, during two visits to the Gaza Strip this year. They met with medical professionals and relevant officials, and assessed the humanitarian conditions in the Strip. The doctors also carried out medical procedures at two of the main hospitals in the Strip.

The human rights organization published details of their visits to the Gaza Strip in the press, and on the Physicians for Human Rights’ Web site.

Six weeks ago the IDF authorized another visit to the Gaza Strip by the group, but barred Yihyeh from joining them, designating him a security risk. Following a request for clarifications by Professor Raphael Valden and Dr. Danny Filc, who are members of the board of the organization, the Shin Bet said that Yihyeh would be allowed to cross into the Strip if he promised not to deal with political issues during his humanitarian mission.

Even before the group had time to inquiry as to the definition of ”political issues,” Yihyeh was called in for questioning.

At the end of the session, the investigator informed Physicians for Human Rights that the security-risk status had been lifted, since Yihyeh was told to avoid any activities that were not humanitarian in nature.

In a letter to Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, the board of Physicians for Human Rights rejected the ”crossing of a red line in a democracy,” and noted that since the only cause for calling an employee of the group was to scare him, the tactics were unacceptable and illegal.

The PHR argued that the threat implied in violating the private life of the mobile clinics director, and the selection of an Arab-Israeli, is an attempt to foil the ability of the organization to function freely.

The group also insisted that its activities in the Gaza Strip do not undermine the security of the state, and are not in violation of security regulations.

Physicians for Human Rights asserted that their professional meetings in the Gaza Strip, and the data they collect in an area where Israeli journalists have no access, may undermine the image of the situation there that the Shin Bet is trying to paint, but they also contribute to bolstering Israel’s democracy.

The Shin Bet told Haaretz that the security risk posed by Yihyeh was related to hostile activities, and that at no point was there a claim that it stemmed from political activities.

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