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Israeli hospitals admit segregating Palestinian mothers from Jewish ones

Three major hospitals in Israel acknowledge for the first time that they practised segregation 'on request' in maternity wards
A nurse holds a newborn baby at a nursery in Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem (Reuters)

Three of Israel's major hospitals have admitted for the first time that they segregated Palestinian mothers from Jewish ones in maternity wards.

According to a report in Haaretz on Thursday, the hospitals admitted the segregation had taken place in February during a lawsuit filed in front of Israel's District Court by four Palestinian mothers.

Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus in occupied East Jerusalem, Haemek Hospital in Afula and Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba in Israel, have admitted that they practised the segregation policy "on request" from Jewish mothers.

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Another hospital, Galilee Medical Center in the city of Nahariya, also included in the lawsuit, denied it had such a policy.

The four Palestinian mothers originally filed their lawsuit last year, and demanded a compensation of $5,500 for being segregated from a room of Jewish mothers during their stay to give birth.

They had attended the hospital, each separately in the past seven years, and had recordings of conversations and arguments with nurses supporting the segregation, who moved them to another room.

One of the nurses was heard saying that "We are really trying to segregate. If there is pressure and no place, we do mix the women [Palestinian and Jewish], but try to separate them the next day."

'Artificial melting pot'

The health body that represents Soroka and Haemek hospital, Kupat Holim Clalit, told the court that the reason for the Palestinian and Jewish mothers' stay at the hospital "is not to create an artificial melting pot," thus "not respecting the wishes of mothers for specific placement creates an 'enforced communal hospital stay' when both sides are not interested in this".

Hadassah Mount Scopus, which received 4,741 Palestinian patients in 2015 and has Palestinian employees and doctors, described the lawsuit as "baseless and populist".

There is nothing wrong with acceding to individual requests. This is not discriminatory

- Hadassah Mount Scopus hospital

Hadassah said that it has no segregation policy, but some "women often request to be in a room with other women from their own community".

It said that requests for segregation were common between ultra-orthodox women to keep the Shabat and the Jewish dietary rules of Kashrut in the room, and that some Palestinian women do request it as well, due to language differences.

It also added that Noa Roth, daughter of Israel's Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, gave birth and stayed in the same room with a Palestinian mother.

"There is nothing wrong with acceding to individual requests. This is not discriminatory, and, when possible, the request is taken into consideration," the hospital told the court.