Hospital plans to fire doctor over claim he praised terrorist, brought him a treat

Ahmad Mahajneh denies congratulating stabbing suspect being treated at Hadassah Ein Karem or giving him pastry, accuses cops of speaking out against him due to family background

Dr. Ahmad Mahajneh, at Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem, Jerusalem,  (Courtesy)
Dr. Ahmad Mahajneh, at Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, (Courtesy)

A Jerusalem hospital intends to fire an Arab resident doctor who allegedly praised a Palestinian terror suspect being treated there, brought him food not supplied by the hospital, then insulted and disobeyed a police officer.

Dr. Ahmad Mahajneh, who has been suspended pending his possible termination, maintains that he did not praise the suspect or bring him food and denies ever supporting terror.

He alleges that the hospital ignored his version of events, including from corroborating witnesses, and denied him due process. The Israel Medical Association has also questioned Hadassah’s plans to punish the doctor, noting the competing claims, but the hospital maintains it has followed all regulations during disciplinary proceedings.

On November 24, Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem wrote in a letter to the IMA that it intended to fire Mahajneh, citing its investigation into the doctor’s October 26 interaction with terror suspect Muhammad Abu Qatish, as well as a subsequent disciplinary hearing.

It opened the probe after receiving an unspecified number of complaints about Mahajneh’s actions from a source or sources whose identity has not been revealed to the public or the accused.

Abu Qatish, 16, seriously wounded an Israeli man in a stabbing attack on October 22 in the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat HaMivtar, according to Israeli authorities. He was shot by an officer after a brief chase and was hospitalized in serious condition.

In its letter to the IMA, Hadassah wrote that Mahajneh “brought a plate of dessert (knafeh) and a plate with pasta, vegetables, and cheese to the detainee.”

It claimed that Mahajneh “blessed” Abu Qatish, telling him “mabruk,” and “saha,” Arabic sayings for “congratulations” and “to your health,” and that he referred to him as a “shahid” or martyr, in conversation with two other employees.

The hospital also accused the resident of “insulting a police officer.”

Police and rescue personnel carry away Muhammad Abu Qatish, the terrorist responsible for the stabbing attack that seriously injured a man in the Givat HaMivtar neighborhood in East Jerusalem, October 22, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“Dr. Mahajneh, with his words and actions, fundamentally violated his duty toward Hadassah and committed a serious infraction that justifies serious disciplinary measures,” the letter concluded. “Thus, Hadassah believes…that the incumbent step is the termination of his employment at Hadassah, a step that [the hospital] intends to take.”

Mahajneh, from Umm al-Fahm, told The Times of Israel that the events as laid out in the letter were skewed, alleging they had been based on sources biased against him. He denied ever supporting terrorism in his life, and said he believes “terrorists deserve to be punished.”

In Mahajneh’s telling, on October 26, he and a colleague ordered food to celebrate their passing residency exams, including knafeh, a syrupy Levantine 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 there checking in on him

“And I asked him in Arabic how he was doing,” he added. “I did not say to the terrorist ‘mabruk‘ or ‘saha‘ and most certainly not ‘shahid’.”

According to Mahajneh, a short time later, a police officer guarding the suspect came into the staff lounge and shouted “Who was the doctor that was just in the [terrorist’s] room?” Mahajneh replied that he had been the doctor, which angered the officer, he recalled.

Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, May 29, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

According to the hospital’s letter, 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,” but Mahajneh said his comment had been “it’s stupid for you to film.”

“I meant that the act of filming was stupid, not the officer, who I didn’t know,” Mahajneh said.

Aside from insulting the officer, Hadassah faulted Mahajneh for not identifying himself, even once informed of his obligation to do so under Israeli law.

Hadas Zvi, deputy director of medical ethics with the NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel, 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, it 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.

Hadassah, like other hospitals, notes proudly that it affords equal treatment to all patients, including terrorists. In 2009, Nachman Ash, the current Health Ministry director, and three other doctors, including two from Hadassah, published a study in the American Journal of Bioethics that made an impassioned case for medical professionals treating terrorists like they would any other patient.

Mahajneh believes the testimony police gave to the hospital was colored by the fact that his father is a defense attorney for Palestinian terror suspects, including six inmates who broke out of Gilboa Prison in September 2021.

In its letter, the hospital said that Mahajneh had claimed he was approached by the officers due to his father’s work, a theory it dismissed as “perplexing and patently improbable” given the officer’s request to see ID.

Mahajneh disputes making that claim, but said he thinks officers looked into his background before offering their version of events to Hadassah. He claimed that a senior staff member at the hospital had called him a “terrorist” on multiple occasions due to his father’s job.

He charged that the hospital had accepted accounts confirming the complaint against him at face value while ignoring witnesses who confirmed his own account. He accused the hospital of giving into a right-wing pressure campaign calling for his dismissal.

“I feel betrayed by the management at Hadassah. I thought they’d stand by me but instead, they’re staunchly against me,” Mahajneh said, adding that he believes his hearing was a “mere formality.”

Families of terror victims protest outside Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem against the decision to treat Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on October 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a terse response to several questions about the case and Mahajneh’s claims, a hospital spokesperson said Hadassah Ein Karem “carefully complies with all provisions of the law and regulations, including regarding disciplinary hearings, this case among them.”

The spokesperson added that the hospital had always been “a symbol and model of coexistence between all peoples and faiths, and will continue to serve as a bridge for peace and brotherhood.”

Among those backing Mahajneh’s account are a number of  Arab nurses from Hadassah’s heart and thoracic surgery unit, who said in a statement tweeted by journalist Shlomi Eldar that the doctor “had nothing to do” with distributing the leftover food on October 26 and that the idea had not been his.

The IMA condemned the hospital’s plans to dismiss Mahajneh, noting that “there is a lack of agreement regarding the facts of the incident.” It stressed that the claims, even if true, “are not grounds for the firing of a physician.”

[Illustrative] Doctors and other medical staff at a protest march organized by the Israeli Medical Association in 2011. Photo by Miriam Alster / Flash90
Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement that Mahajneh had fallen victim to a “racist, nationalist, and populist witch hunt” and that his slated dismissal has created a “culture of silence and oppression” at the hospital, especially for its Arab employees.

It claimed moreover to have received testimony from several witnesses that matched Mahajneh’s account.

“The medical system is a militarized system and the minute there’s anything to do with the conflict, the system takes one side and forgets its principles, which include treating patients equally and giving autonomy to doctors,” said Zvi.

Mahajneh said he intends to file a wrongful termination suit if the hospital goes through with his dismissal.

“I’m a person who gets along with everyone, who respects everyone,” he said. “At the hospital, Jews and Arabs work together and even eat together.”

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