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Healthcare Workers Need to Defend the Gaza Solidarity Encampments

As Israel’s genocide continues, student encampaments have started popping up throughout the U.S. in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Healthcare workers should mobilize nationally to defend students and help massify the movement.

Mike Pappas

April 27, 2024
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a group of health care workers hold signs including a banner that says "Healthcare workers for the people of Palestine."

As the genocide in Gaza continues, people throughout the U.S. have mobilized in their workplaces and on the streets in solidarity with Palestine. Healthcare workers have organized, among other sectors, as it became more and more evident how there’s always money for war and genocide, but never for things like healthcare. But even as Israel’s onslaught has continued and sectors of vanguard are still in the streets, the larger sectors of the masses mobilizing had begun to wane.

Now, though, students mobilizing to form encampments on campuses around the world represents a shift in the movement. As we recently noted:

The students’ tenacity, determination, and deeply-felt solidarity with the Palestinian people has moved all of U.S. society. The unity of Palestinian, Jewish, and young people of all races protesting against the genocide being perpetrated by Israel and financed by the United States — students willing to get arrested putting their bodies and futures on the line — poses the possibility and necessity of putting the student movement on its feet, alongside the working class with an anti-imperialist perspective.

In this context, now is the time for healthcare workers to join these student encampments and help defend them against repression. At the same time, healthcare workers joining in this fight can serve as an example of a way to unite the student and worker movements in a fight for a free Palestine.

We Need to Defend the Encampments

The current situation is quite complicated for the Biden administration. After the initial repression against the first student encampment at Columbia University in New York City, more and more encampments are springing up around the United States. At this point, the administration has been forced to walk a tightrope between wanting to repress the movement while trying not to further jeopardize its upcoming election prospects. Ultimately, the ruling class does not want the student movement to grow or for other sectors to become activated in their workplaces and the streets. This is why there has been an effort to paint the encampments as “anti-semitic,” making it easier to criminalize student mobilizations. We have seen the level of repression increasing at universities such as Emory, Ohio State, and the University of Texas at Austin. It’s possible that encampments around the country will see increased repression in an effort to shut things down before they get “out of hand.” Some have even suggested bringing in the national guard on encampments — a suggestion which draws concerns over a replay of Kent State in the 1970s.

In this context, expanding encampments and activating support around them is key. And healthcare workers must play a role in this process. These workers gained public trust during the pandemic, so our participation has the potential to help bring more people into the fold. In response to mobilizations in solidarity with Gaza, there is a McCarthyist crackdown being waged against virtually any criticism of Israel and U.S. with cover of defense against “antisemitism.” This is part of an effort to attack student encampments, framing them as dangerous places full of students who are there not because they want to fight against an ongoing genocide, but because they are antisemetic or, as the Wall Street Journal and other right-wingers would have you believe, “groomed” by Hamas and Hezbollah. Healthcare workers need to stand with the encampments denouncing these false claims. As faculty at different universities have come out to defend mobilizing students against repression, healthcare workers should follow their lead.

Beyond Symbolically Standing with Students

The need for healthcare workers to join to defend student encampments also has a material basis. Many of these educational institutions have research and healthcare systems connected to them. This means that the same institutions (hospital systems) that are tasked with caring for the health and wellbeing of the public are often connected to educational institutions that profit from Israel’s colonial project. 

Many of the leaders of those major healthcare institutions also have direct economic connections with Zionist state of Israel in various ways. For example, the health system of New York University (NYU) — where the student encampment was violently repressed with many arrests, including of faculty who came out to defend the students — is NYU Langone Health. The co-chair of the board of trustees of this health system is Larry Fink who, in addition to serving as co-chair of one of the biggest hospital systems in New York City, also serves as co-chair and CEO of Blackrock. Blackrock makes its profits by investing in companies that are part of a growing military industrial complex that benefits from increasing conflict around the world which always harms the poor and working class. There is a direct connection between a health institution like NYU and companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Caterpillar Inc. — companies that create weapons used to murder Palestinians and maintain Israel’s occupation. NYU is just one example of how the threads of Zionism travel from undergraduate and graduate institutions to their connected health systems.  

In the United States, healthcare is a business that exists not to prioritize health, but to extract profit from bodies damaged by capitalism. So, it’s no wonder why leaders of various hospital systems would have no problem being connected to the genocidal state of Israel. And this connection is quite lucrative. For example, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in 2018 Teva Pharmaceuticals, a healthcare company based in Israel, contributed $15 billion to the U.S. GDP. These connections only further underscore the need for healthcare workers to mobilize to defend encampments that challenge these relationships.

As healthcare workers, many of us have gone through these same institutions being forced to go deep into debt in order to obtain an education from institutions that profit from genocide. These institutions put us in debt, which makes it easier for healthcare institutions to exploit our labor. The same system then jeopardizes patient care due to understaffing all in an effort to maximize profit. And it’s obviously not just us as healthcare workers. Today, we are all exploited by the same system: capitalism. A system exploiting us as workers, creating poverty conditions that then will increase physical and mental health conditions while limiting access to care.
But this is even more reason why we as healthcare workers should defend these encampments. As we note, the encampments

show a glimpse into the possibility of universities that are cut free from these tethers: universities open to all, truly accessible to all, where every student is granted the resources to focus on their studies, and where the knowledge produced at those institutions serve the interests of workers, the oppressed, and society at large, not capitalists and their drive to destroy the planet.

In this same light, as healthcare workers, fighting to protect and expand these student encampments can also show a glimpse of how we can bring these efforts outside the education sector to our own institutions. We can take the mentality of these courageous students back to our workplaces and fight for health settings that are not based on profit extraction but are free, open, and truly accessible to all.

Today those on university campuses ultimately only represent a small part of the population that supports Palestine. Healthcare workers joining in defense could be part of the process of reaching beyond the limits of university campuses and expanding this movement. It could be a way to help to unite the student movement with the labor movement and the broader working class. We need to massify the movement on a scale that truly disrupts the status quo and cannot be easily silenced.

In the last several years, various sectors of the working class have seen how the workers are the ones with the power to make society run. As healthcare workers for example we put our lives on the line throughout the pandemic, our hospital CEOs hid in their condos and did nothing. Now a generation of young students and workers are seeing that we will only get what we need through organizing together in our workplaces, schools, and communities. In the fight for a free Palestine, it’s time we join and defend student encampments helping to massify the movement connecting the might of the working class and social movements.

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Mike Pappas

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

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