Controversy Abounds Over Treating Terrorists Before Victims

Yerushalayim -
ZAKA personnel at the scene of where two Israelis were killed and at least two others wounded in a stabbing attack at Beit Panorama in southern Tel Aviv , on November 19, 2015. Photo by Moti Karelitz/ZAKA TEL AVIV
ZAKA personnel at the scene of where two Israelis were killed and two others wounded in a stabbing attack at Beit Panorama in southern Tel Aviv , on Nov. 19. (Moti Karelitz/Zaka Tel Aviv)

In a controversial stance, the Israel Medical Association (IMA) announced that emergency medical personnel at the scene of a tragedy – such as a terrorist attack – need to treat individuals according to their levels of injury. That policy, the IMA’s ethics committee said, includes treating terrorists first, if they need more medical attention than their victims.

It must be noted that, according to halachah, priority must be given to the victim of a murderous attack and it is also morally wrong to accord preferential treatment to the perpetrator over the victim.

The announcement reflects a drastic shift in priorities; previously, the IMA’s policy had been that Israeli victims should be treated before terrorists. In an interview with daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom, Dr. Tami Karni, who heads the ethics committee, said that the reason for the change was that “doctors are not judges, and by prioritizing victims over perpetrators, they would be in a position of deciding who was to blame and whom to ‘punish,’ via their decision of whom to treat first. It’s easy to make mistakes, especially in a mass terror attack, and we cannot expect a doctor to identify the individual they are treating. Their job is to save lives, and they need to concentrate on that. It’s not fair to add another responsibility to their already-crowded agenda.”

The IMA announcement has raised the ire of rightwing MKs. Speaking Wednesday, Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said that the IMA’s position was “unbelievable. The heads of the organization must resign their position immediately. This is an inhuman decision, and clearly the people who made it are living in another world. It shows the complete moral confusion and loss of priorities among certain people in this country. The IMA must immediately retract this decision.”

Although the policy is new for the IMA, it turns out that Israel’s largest rescue organization, Magen David Adom, has been conducting itself in this manner for some time. In an interview last month, MDA director Eli Been said that his rescue workers were required to help anyone who was injured when terror attacks took place, including terrorists – and in fact, there were cases where they would be treated first.

Speaking on a morning talk show, Been said that MDA workers evaluated the situation at the scene of a terrorist attack and practiced a form of triage, to decide whom to treat first. Later elaborating on his comments in a radio interview, Been said “I have no specific instructions on whom to treat first. As soon as we see an injured individual we treat him. We do not check who they are.”

When asked whether that means that a rescue worker would treat a badly-injured terrorist before a moderately-injured terror victim, Been said “I imagine that in cases of terror attacks there is more than one rescue worker on the scene, so that is not an issue. But I don’t have the privilege of choosing whom to treat – the policies of Magen David Adom require us to treat everyone whose life is in danger.”

The only limitation on treatment, Been said, is when security forces instruct rescue workers to stay away from specific individuals, “which are usually the terrorists,” he added.

Commenting on Been’s stance, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, head of Zaka, said that he disagreed. “The question of who to treat first is a complicated one, but we instruct our workers to treat Jews first. Terrorists who attack Jews can wait.”

Meshi-Zahav said in an interview that his workers had the same moral dilemmas as MDA’s did. “We are supposed to treat the worst injured first, and workers ask how to act in cases like this. In reality it is not such a complicated question, because when they arrive on the scene of a terror attack, they treat the wounded, and are told by police not to touch the terrorist, who needs to be processed and checked by police to ensure that he is not about to spring a trap or blow himself up. Meanwhile we are usually able to take care of the Jewish victims.”

The victims deserve priority, said Meshi-Zahav, “because they were attacked simply for being Jewish. It’s true that emergency workers have a code of ethics that they must observe that in some cases might necessitate treating terrorists first, but there is a limit. The moral thing is to treat the victims who have done nothing to warrant being attacked. We cannot allow ourselves to lose our moral compass.”