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In Sam Harris' recent podcast (timestamp 40:45), he claims the following.

Most people don’t realize that the current head of Hamas, Sinwar, was cured of brain cancer, while in an Israeli prison. The actual mastermind behind the October 7th attacks was someone whose life had been saved by a Jewish oncologist.

I have attempted to do some research on this. While it is true that Sinwar was treated by an Israeli oncologist while in prison, I have not been able to find evidence indicating that the oncologist was Jewish.

It appears that one of Sinwar's dentists while in prison was likely Jewish (I infer this since per the linked article the dentist's name is Yuval Bitton, and the last name appears to be Sephardic). However, I have not been able to find any information on the oncologist who treated Sinwar.

Is there evidence proving Harris' claim that the oncologist who treated Sinwar was Jewish?

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  • 1
    Related question (not a duplicate): Did Netanyahu express support of Hamas in 2019?
    – Avery
    Feb 1 at 21:08
  • 2
    @Avery: how is that related?
    – صالح
    Feb 1 at 23:36
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    He was probably treated by an Israeli oncologist, 73.2% of Israeli population are Jewish.
    – صالح
    Feb 1 at 23:39
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    Is there any indication that the oncologist/the oncologists treating Sinwar were not Jewish? I think you should at least add to your question why you have doubts about this claim.
    – KlausN
    May 16 at 12:25
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    @MathematicsStudent1122 So, as far as I understand your doubt is not so much on whether the doctor treating Sinwar really was Jewish, but more whether Sam Harris has any information on this, and is just making an unfounded claim?
    – KlausN
    May 17 at 8:33

2 Answers 2

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Sinwar was diagnosed with brain cancer while under custody in the Israeli prison and then was treated and operated in Assaf Harofeh hospital. The names and identities of his treating staff are not given. It would be highly unlikely that, in Israel, none of the treating staff were Jewish.

From an interview with Tat-Gundar Betty Lahat who was the head intelligence officer of the Israeli Prison Service and was the commander of the prison where Sinwar was held:

"הוא נורא פחד. כשהתחילו לו כאבי ראש, שלחנו אותו מכלא נפחא בדרום לכלא איילון, ומאוחר יותר גילו לו גידול ליד המוח, והבנאדם פשוט התפרק, כי זה היה סרטן מזן מאוד אלים. הבאנו אותו לבית החולים אסף הרופא, והוא עבר שם ניתוח להסרת הגידול. באתי לראות אותו אחרי הניתוח. אמרתי לו, 'אתה רואה, בסוף מדינת ישראל שאתה כל כך יוצא נגדה, הצילה את החיים שלך'. והאיש התחיל לבכות. אשכרה לבכות ולהתחנן בפניי שאגיד לו שהוא ייצא מהסיפור הזה ושהוא לא עומד למות. הוא אמר, 'אף אחד לא מסביר לי מה המצב שלי, אפילו המשפחה שלי לא יודעת אם זה הסוף שלי'.

"אז קראתי לרופא שהסביר לו שניקו את הגידול וכרגע לא רואים גרורות. אבל סנוואר המשיך להיות מבוהל. בכל פעם שראה אותי שאל, 'מה יהיה איתי, הגידול לא יחזור?'. אחרי שהוא התאושש, העבירו אותו לבית חולים של השב"ס ברמלה, ובכירים מהרשות הפלסטינית ביקשו לבקר אותו ואפשרו להם. תחילה הגיע השר לענייני אסירים סופיאן אבו זיידה, וכשהוא יצא מהביקור שאלתי אותו, 'נו, מה, הגיבור בכה גם לך?', והוא אמר, 'כן, אין מה לעשות, סנוואר פוחד על החיים שלו'".

"He was terribly afraid. When he started having headaches, we sent him from Nafha prison in the south to Ayalon prison, and later they discovered a tumor near his brain, and the man just fell apart, because it was a very violent type of cancer. We brought him to Assaf Harofeh Hospital, and he underwent surgery to remove The tumor. I came to see him after the surgery. I told him, 'You see, in the end the State of Israel, which you are so against, saved your life.' He said, 'No one explains to me what my situation is, not even my family knows if this is the end of me.'

"So I called the doctor who explained to him that the tumor had been removed and currently no metastases are seen. But Sinwar continued to be frightened. Every time he saw me he asked, 'What will happen to me, the tumor will not return?'. After he recovered, he was transferred to an Israeli Prison Service hospital in Ramlah, and senior officials from the Palestinian Authority asked to visit him and were allowed to. First, the minister for prisoners' affairs, Sufian Abu Zaida, arrived, and when he left the visit, I asked him, 'Well, what, the hero cried to you too?', and he said, 'Yes, there is nothing to be done, Sinwar is afraid for his life.'"

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There are numerous reports from non-Israeli sources that Yahya Sinwar was treated for a brain tumor in a hospital in Israel sometime between 2003 and 2008 (accounts differ on exact date and exactly where in Israel).

According to the Associated Press (2024),

"In 2008, Sinwar survived an aggressive form of brain cancer after treatment at a Tel Aviv hospital."

The following are more detailed and seem more accurate. According to Reuters (Dec 2023),

"Bitton, a dentist who treated Sinwar, said Israeli medics removed a tumour in Sinwar's brain in 2004."

The dentist, Yuval Bitton, was Jewish and diagnosed Sinwar's condition but did not provide in-hospital treatment. The Wall Street Journal reported (Dec 2023) that

"in 2004, Sinwar appeared to develop neurological problems, speaking unclearly and struggling with walking, Bitton said. Doctors examined him, finding an abscess in the brain that threatened his life. They rushed him from a prison near Beer Sheva to the city’s hospital for surgery. After a successful operation, Sinwar returned to prison and thanked the doctors for saving his life..."

The last part is important for this question. Sinwar thanked the doctors in Hebrew. While in prison, he learned Hebrew in classes with the prison’s “open university” and read Israeli newspapers. Via the Manhattan Institute (Mar 2024),

The Palestinian in the clinic at one of Israel’s highest security prisons near Beersheba had a persistent pain in the back of his neck. He trembled and had trouble walking. Yuval Bitton, then a 28-year-old dentist just a year out of school, suspected that his patient might be suffering from a C.V.A., an ischemic cerebrovascular accident, resulting from a life-threatening brain tumor. “He needs to be hospitalized, immediately,” Bitton advised the prison doctors.

Dr. Bitton’s diagnosis was quickly confirmed at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. The surgery took hours. The prisoner survived... he thanked Bitton and the rest of the prison medical staff for having saved his life—in excellent Hebrew. The year was 2004. The patient was Yahya Sinwar.

There are Arab Israelis, some of whom are Muslim. They speak Hebrew, but it seems unlikely that Sinwar would thank an Arab Muslim physician in Hebrew.

There is an additional source that further corroborates that Yahya Sinwar was treated by Jewish physicians. Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai. Before that, he managed the Iraqi stream of the Arabic TV network Alhurra. He worked as a reporter and editor in Beirut for Lebanon’s The Daily Star. On 2 January 2024, he made the following response on Twitter to Saira Rao (who expressed terror and fear for the well-being of "Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Black patients" in the U.S. because "many American doctors and nurses are Zionists")

Just like how Zionist Israeli doctors saved the life of top Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar when he was in Israeli prison and a tumor was found in his head? Israel has made most Arabs think that Palestinians are lucky to have ethical Israelis as their enemy, especially when compared to #Iran regime...

The relevant part is Abdul-Hussain's description of the doctors who saved the life of Sinwar: "Zionist Israeli doctors". The combination of speaking Hebrew and the description of them as Zionist Israelis makes it very likely that they were Jewish.


An article via Bloomberg confirms (Nov 2023) part of what the other answer here described:

Betty Lahat, the prison system’s intelligence chief at the time, said she tried to use that event to recruit him as an agent. “I said, the state of Israel saved your life... I thought I could turn him into one of ours, but he wasn’t interested...”

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  • The quote from Manhattan Institute indicates that he thanked the medical staff, not the doctors. The quote from Abdul-Hussain mentions "Zionist Israeli" doctors. You can be Zionist and Israeli without being Jewish. May 13 at 20:14
  • I think I explained why it would be unlikely that there would be a common set of Zionist Israeli physicians who were not Jewish and were practicing medicine in Israel! The number is close to infinitesimal if not zero. May 23 at 6:24

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