Fellow medic: 'He is wounded emotionally from what happened'

Probe launched into violent police arrest of doctor as he treated Tel Aviv protester

Viral video of 71-year-old volunteer Dr. Udi Baharav being detained and dragged as he tries to tend to an injured woman prompts condemnation from politicians and medical community

Police violently arrest a doctor who had been treating an injured anti-government protester during a rally in Tel Aviv on June 8, 2024. (Social media/X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The violent arrest and detention by police of a doctor who had been treating an injured anti-government protester in Tel Aviv on Saturday night has provoked outrage among politicians and within the medical community.

The Department of Internal Police Investigations, an independent body under the auspices of the Justice Ministry that investigates allegations of police brutality, launched a probe of the incident Sunday following a demand by member organizations of the Israeli Medical Association.

National Unity party chairman Benny Gantz and Health Minister Uriel Busso also condemned the arrest of Dr. Udi Baharav. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid announced the establishment of a “documentation center” for police violence after a video of the incident went viral.

In a letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara on Sunday, Lapid demanded increased oversight of the police: “Week after week the harsh scenes of violence and the use of inappropriate force against the people return, just yesterday harsh films were published of policemen beating and dragging a doctor while he was providing medical help on the sidewalk,” he wrote.

Lapid said the police have a “responsibility to protect [protesters], not to attack them with violence,” asking the attorney general “to exercise your authority… and instruct the police to act sensitively and above all according to the law and to preserve freedom of expression and protest.”

Another physician was also reported to have been arrested during Saturday night’s protests.

President Isaac Herzog later issued his own comments decrying such scenes of police violence.

“The image of a doctor being forcibly arrested by police at the protest last night while he was providing medical care disturbed me greatly,” Herzog said, noting a string of such incidents in recent weeks and months.

“I would like to be clear: The law is above all, and everyone must obey the law,” he said. But state authorities “have an even greater responsibility… the police must internalize this criticism, and ensure that its responsibilities are carried out with sensitivity and proportionality, in particular during such a painful and tense period.”

Baharav, a 71-year-old retired internist and general practitioner, volunteers with an informally organized group of physicians, nurses and mental health professionals who attend rallies and protests.

Their purpose is to be on-hand within the crowd to treat anyone — protesters and police alike — injured or ill. The group members are visible by their clearly labeled orange or purple vests and headlamps that identify them as health aid personnel, and they make themselves known ahead of time to both civilians and security forces.

According to eyewitness Dr. Yair Hoffman, Baharav was arrested by police at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday as he attended to a woman with an injured shoulder. Baharav was crouched next to the woman as she sat on the sidewalk in front of a school on the south side of Kaplan Street.

“The crowd was being slowly forced back toward the intersection of Begin and Kaplan by police water cannons and mounted police. They were forces from the Border Police and some special police units. I noticed that something was happening at the side. I saw Udi and another physician I know attending the situation, so I didn’t approach at first,” Hoffman said.

“But then I saw Udi being dragged away on the ground for several meters, so I went over because I thought maybe he was hurt. I saw a policeman dragging him and shouting at him. I told them, ‘Udi is a doctor, is 71 and has PTSD from the Yom Kippur War.'”

According to Hoffman, who also volunteers at protests, the police ignored him and told him to go away. Instead, Hoffman turned to the injured woman Baharav had been trying to treat. As he started an initial assessment of her condition, he put a pulse oximeter on her finger to measure her heart rate and oxygen saturation.

Protesters on Tel Aviv’s Begin Road in front of the Kirya IDF Military Headquarters urge a deal for the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, hours after the IDF rescued four hostages, June 8, 2024. (Dana Reany: Pre-Democracy Reform Movement)

However, a police officer came over and forced him to leave the woman and rejoin the crowd. The police arrested the injured woman for allegedly attacking an officer and took her to a police bus for detainees.

“The police officers there refused to give me back my pulse oximeter that was left on the woman’s finger. I had to find a high-ranking officer to accompany me to the detainee bus so I could get it back,” Hoffman recounted.

Hoffman was among others who then waited outside the Mesubim police station, where Baharav had been taken. The arrested physician was released around 4 a.m. on Sunday.

“He was shaken. He was crying and could barely talk. He is now recovering. His physical injuries appear to be only bruises, but he is wounded emotionally from what happened,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said he didn’t know exactly what had occurred to spur the police to arrest Baharav, only that he understood that the police claimed that he was trying to attack them.

“That doesn’t make sense. Udi is a very gentle person. It was likely that the police were crowding in on him and he could have extended his elbows to try to create space to attend to the injured woman,” Hoffman speculated.

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Prof. Hagai Levine, a public health leader and head of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum medical team, characterized Baharav’s violent arrest and detention as “an outrageous event.”

“We have an official agreement with the police that our teams are there. The police are aware of us, but instead of listening to our physicians and mental health workers as they try to explain what they are doing, the police brutally take them away,” Levine.

“I think it’s a very clear-cut case of unjust police action and brutality,” Levine said of Baharav’s arrest.

“But I must say it’s a new low, even given all the violence we have seen by police at the protests over the last 15 months,” he said, referring to a tumultuous period under the current hard-right government, which has featured allegations that far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is in direct charge of the police, is increasingly politicizing the force.

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