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Healthcare Workers Must Stand with Palestine

A U.S. funded humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Gaza as a result of Israel’s ongoing genocidal campaign. This crisis makes it all the more crucial for healthcare workers to stand with Palestine.

Mike Pappas

October 21, 2023
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A true humanitarian crisis continues to unfold in Gaza. Thus far almost 4,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded. Over 47 families have been completely removed from the civil registry with not a single family member surviving. These numbers are only rising. In just over a week, Israel has dropped over 6,000 bombs on Palestine – around 1 every minute – including on trucks full of fleeing Gazans and on indicated evacuation routes. Over a million residents of Northern Gaza were ordered to flee to the South, which constitutes a war crime of forcible transfer—and also puts particularly sick and disabled individuals at even increased risk of death. Israel has also used white phosphorus – which is illegal to use on dense civilian populations according to international law – which burns individuals to the bone and can lead to lifelong health effects. In addition, Israel has imposed a total siege on Gaza, in which all food, fuel, and water is being blockaded, with Israel only recently allowing a small number of aid trucks to enter. The resulting suffering and destruction is massive, and Gaza’s healthcare system is on the brink of disaster, leading some healthcare workers to have to drink from IV bags. There is a true humanitarian crisis and health crisis. As a healthcare worker myself, it’s clear, anyone in healthcare that claims to stand on the side of health and justice must be standing on the side of Palestinians.

The death of Israeli civilians at the hands of Hamas does not justify the deadly operations of the Israeli government that has created this massive humanitarian crisis.

Healthcare workers must speak up as this health crisis emerges in Gaza and push for an immediate ceasefire. As we see the crisis unfolding, even the basic aspects of healthcare infrastructure needed to care for people attacked are being deliberately destroyed by Israel as part of the state’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people. We have seen hospitals (most recently al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, where thousands have been seeking medical treatment and shelter, killing at least 500) and ambulances destroyed in the bombing. EMS workers have been killed, and physicians and other healthcare workers have been killed with their families as they go home from working for days straight treating the wounded. This makes it all the more dire for healthcare workers and their organizations to stand on the side of justice for Palestine

Recently, a statement by Palestinian trade unions remarked that only a mass movement can stop the killing:

Palestinian trade unions call on our counterparts internationally and all people of conscience to end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes—most urgently halting the arms trade with Israel, as well as all funding and military research.

Healthcare workers can play a role in building the mass movement needed to stop the violence. We can highlight in our workplaces and organizations the need to stop U.S. aid to Israel, pointing out how there is no money for our broken-down hospitals or clinics, but always infinite money for war. In 2020, Biden noted the U.S. wouldn’t have money to fund Medicare for All, but just yesterday he gave an address saying how he wants to spend $100 billion for wars overseas. There is never money for healthcare, schools, or other basic services, but not to worry: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently assured everyone there is plenty of money for the military in both Ukraine and Israel. This is money that is going to military contractors and arms manufacturers, for military incursions killing people and driving us toward climate collapse—money that could go toward healthcare, schools, or housing. 

We must stop aiding Israel, stop funding wars, and fund things that actually preserve and maintain health and well being. 

There is a crackdown in the United States condemning those who criticize Israel’s crimes. It’s an attempt by politicians and university officials to isolate the protests and paint those resisting against Israeli apartheid as terrorists. It’s an effort to paint those who stand against the state of Israel’s genocidal policies as antisemitic. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, as many Jewish folks have been highlighting like those at the Capitol on Thursday. Healthcare workers have been fired for their stances on the conflict, yet government officials and politicians say far more horrible things defending Israel’s crimes and not only keep their jobs, but are given corporate media platforms to further discuss their views. Healthcare workers have a role to play, as we gained additional public respect putting lives on line during pandemic. We must be part of combating this narrative in surrounding the movement with solidarity, defending the right to speak and protest and stopping the criminalization of protests.

Today, more and more healthcare workers are seeing Israel’s project for what it is, one of colonization and genocide. Even before Israel’s current escalation, nursing conventions were holding sessions for healthcare workers to discuss colonialism. After the most recent bombing campaign, healthcare workers have started to speak up. Recently, Harvard medical students, residents, and attending physicians held a vigil to call attention to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. As healthcare workers we must take these examples and organize in our workplaces and communities. 

Today healthcare workers in NYC will join together in a contingent to march with Within Out Lifetime’s march “Flood Brooklyn for Palestine” as part of a national day of action for Gaza. Healthcare workers and activists will flood the streets to demand an end to the U.S. sponsored genocide.

If healthcare workers remotely claim to support health and justice, it’s clear what stance needs to be taken today and that is to stand with Palestine. Healthcare workers, their institutions, and worker organizations should join in this call.

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Mike Pappas

Mike is an activist and medical doctor working in New York City.

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