An Arab Israeli doctor at a Jerusalem hospital who was falsely accused of praising a Palestinian terror suspect urged the hospital on Sunday to apologize to him and end the dismissal process that was initiated in response to the allegations.
Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem wrote to the Israel Medical Association in November that it intended to fire resident Dr. Ahmad Mahajneh, erroneously claiming that on October 26, he gave patient Muhammad Abu Qatish, 16, a plate of sweets, congratulated him and called him a “shahid,” or martyr.
The hospital also accused Mahajneh of “insulting a police officer.”
The false accusations were first publicized by the right-wing group Betsalmo and were widely picked up by Hebrew media outlets, sparking outrage on social media, with some users threatening the doctor. However, despite retractions by Betsalmo and the media over the past week, the hospital has yet to allow Mahajneh to return to work, he said.
“They have to apologize,” Mahajneh told the Walla news site. “They have to. But instead, Hadassah continues to persecute me, keeps my suspension from work in force and harms my livelihood, my profession. All the people that were involved and lied in this affair are working as usual, while I sit at home.”
He added: “I’m afraid. I’ve received many threats since November 4, when the reports began, and since then I’ve been afraid.”
Shai Glick, chair of Betsalmo, the pressure group that first took action regarding the accusations and campaigned for Mahajneh’s dismissal, walked back the claims last week.
Glick said he collected testimonies from Mahajneh himself and other Hadassah staff, proving that the events did not occur.
“Dr. Mahajneh is an excellent doctor, and I call for his return to work as soon as possible,” Glick said in a statement.
Hadassah announced last week that it would hold a mediation process over the matter, adding that the process would be headed by a retired judge and that the hospital aimed to end it “as quickly as possible.”
Responding to the initial allegations in an interview earlier in December, Mahajneh told The Times of Israel that he and a colleague ordered food to celebrate their passing residency exams, including knafeh, a syrupy Middle Eastern pastry. When much of the food went uneaten, some other staff at the hospital suggested it be offered to patients.
The doctor said another member of the hospital staff brought Abu Qatish the food while he happened to be in the room for a routine examination. Abu Qatish had seriously wounded an Israeli man in a stabbing attack on October 22 in the city, according to Israeli authorities. He was shot by an officer after a brief chase and was hospitalized at Hadassah in serious condition.
“I asked him in Arabic how he was doing,” he added. “I did not say to the terrorist ‘mabruk’ [congratulations]… and certainly not ‘shahid’ [martyr].”
According to Mahajneh, a short time later, a police officer guarding the suspect came into the staff lounge and shouted, “Who was the doctor who was just in the [terrorist’s] room?” Mahajneh replied that he was the doctor, which angered the officer, he recalled.
The hospital claimed that the officer confronted Mahajneh because feeding a patient food brought from outside is against hospital protocol.
When a second police officer who showed up demanded that Mahajneh identify himself, he refused. At that point, the officer began filming him. Hadassah claimed that Mahajneh told the officer, “Why are you filming me? Are you stupid?” However, Mahajneh claimed he had actually said, “It’s stupid for you to film.”
“I meant that the act of filming was stupid, not the officer, whom I didn’t know,” Mahajneh said.
Aside from allegedly insulting the officer, Hadassah faulted Mahajneh for not identifying himself once informed of his obligation to do so under Israeli law.
Hadas Zvi, deputy director of medical ethics with the Physicians for Human Rights Israel organization, claimed that police need reasonable cause to ask for ID, citing the organization’s lawyers. She added that Mahajneh was already wearing a name tag.
While giving patients food from outside the hospital is against Hadassah protocol, the rule is rarely enforced, Zvi said. And once the decision was made to distribute the leftovers, withholding a share from the detained terror suspect would have violated the medical ethics principle of equal treatment.
The grassroots Israeli organization Tag Meir, which campaigns against anti-Arab hate crimes and religious bigotry, held a forum last week in Jerusalem and invited Mahajneh to share his story.
Mahajneh told Walla that the event was “heartwarming.”
“My father, a good friend and I arrived at the meeting… what we thought would be a small, intimate event, and found many people there,” he said, adding that “99 percent” of the attendees were Jewish.
Gadi Gvaryahu, chair of Tag Meir, said the organization has written to Hadassah, urging the hospital to reinstate Mahajneh.
“This is not our Judaism and not the kind of country we want to see,” Gvaryahu said.
Asked by The Times of Israel for comment on Mahjneh’s new comments, Hadassah referred back to the statement it released Wednesday about the mediation process. The statement did not mention the false accusation that Mahajneh had praised the terror suspect.
The hospital’s statement said it was “determined to not allow political factors from any side to interfere and put pressure that will harm the body, which in all its years of existence served as a symbol and example of coexistence.”