Nassar’s predicament, shared by dozens of Palestinian doctors from East Jerusalem, is the result of a bureaucratic impasse linked to the long-standing struggle over this contested city.
The doctors in question received their medical degrees from Al-Quds University, a prominent Palestinian institution of higher learning. Although it is the leading Arab university in the Jerusalem metropolitan area, graduates of its medical school are not allowed to take the Israeli licensing exam needed to work in the city.
As a result, a heavily burdened health-care system in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, where specialists are sorely lacking, is deprived of an infusion of new physicians to help serve a population of about 300,000.
On the face of it, the problem, which is set to be considered this month by Israel’s Supreme Court, stems from a technical dispute.
The scattered campuses of Al-Quds University lie both within and outside Jerusalem’s city limits. Most departments, including the medical school, are concentrated at the main campus in Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb in the West Bank, beyond the city line. Others are in East Jerusalem.
The banned doctors assert that they have the right to take the Israeli licensing exam like any other resident of Jerusalem with a foreign medical degree, noting that they studied in a West Bank area under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority.
The Israeli Health Ministry says that because Al-Quds University also operates in East Jerusalem, which has been annexed by Israel, it cannot be recognized as a foreign institution and its medical school graduates cannot take the licensing exam like other foreign-trained doctors.
Moreover, university departments operating in East Jerusalem do not have the approval of the Israeli Council for Higher Education, which must sanction colleges and universities in Israel. A request by Al-Quds for Israeli recognition of those departments as a separate school is pending.
Shlomo Lecker, an Israeli lawyer representing about 50 doctors in an appeal to the Supreme Court against the ban, said he suspects Israel’s stand is part of a political attempt to push the foremost Palestinian academic institution in Jerusalem out of the city.
“This is a struggle against Al-Quds University,” Lecker said in an interview. “The Health Ministry has mobilized to take these doctors hostage to exert political pressure in a matter that is not under its authority.”
The ministry, Lecker says, is being derelict in its duty to provide proper health services, showing “utter disregard for the medical needs of residents of East Jerusalem.”