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Israel: Top doctor says 'Arab womb' is overwhelming country with high birthrate

Palestinian health workers call for dismissal of medical chief after he suggests 'regressive' child allowance policy that fines women who give birth to five children
Medical staff work at the Covid-19 isolation ward of Soroka Medical Center in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on 15 September 2020 (AFP)

A top Israeli medical official expressed fear of the "Arab womb" on Sunday and suggested fines on Palestinian mothers giving birth to five children to limit the Palestinian fertility rate in the country.

Gideon Sahar, director of the Department of Thoracic and Heart Surgery at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, was speaking at a meeting of the far-right Jewish Home party where he directed a question to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked about the "most problematic population", referring to Palestinian citizens of Israel

“Regarding the matter of population growth and the more problematic population, we face a kind of paradox," Sahar explained. 

"On the one hand, we understand that the birthrate is decisive - the Arab womb; and on the other hand, we encourage it with all the child allowances. 

"That's why I think we should consider a child allowance that is regressive: the first child receives one, the second child receives one, perhaps the third child; the fourth child does not, and the fifth child perhaps triggers a fine. We have to figure out something," he added. 

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In response, Shaked said the suggestion was "impractical" and said the best solution is to help Palestinian women "simply undergo Westernisation". 

Sahar's comments have caused an uproar among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are the descendants of those expelled from their homes in the Nakba.

Palestinian medical workers called his remarks "racist" and demanded his dismissal.

'Anyone who sees the Arab womb as a threat has no place in the health system'

- The Association of Arab Doctors of the Negev

The Association of Arab Doctors of the Negev filed a petition signed by more than 150 doctors calling for disciplinary action against the doctor. 

"Anyone who sees the Arab womb as a threat has no place in the health system, and certainly cannot care for the hearts of the Arabs," read the petition. 

The petition stated that following his comments there was no way to be confident in Sahar treating Palestinian patients with the same care as Jewish patients. 

"We expect the hospital management to take a strong stance against statements of this kind, from which emerges a spirit of general racial arrogance against an entire population."

Birthrate fears

For years, Palestinian citizens of Israel had a higher birth rate than their Jewish peers, which has long been a concern among many Israelis who view it as threatening their demographic superiority in the country.

However, the fertility rate among Palestinians has gone down to 2.9 in 2022 from 9.2 in 1960, compared to 3.0 among Jewish women.

Earlier this year the government passed a law to block the unification of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip with their spouses who hold Israeli citizenship. 

The new bill extended emergency legislation that was passed in 2003 to prevent those from the Palestinian territories from gaining residency or citizenship of Israel through marriage to another citizen.

Shaked openly said the law was passed for "demographic reasons" and was aimed at stopping the "creeping right of return".

The law was denounced as racist by Palestinians, who make up around 20 percent of Israel's citizens in addition to the five million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

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