As medical establishments lag behind, health workers are in the forefront of demanding ceasefire in Palestine

Health workers worldwide have demanded immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, but not all medical associations are backing up their demands.

November 24, 2023 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Photo: Medact

Reactions from health and medical associations have continued to pour in since the latest escalation of Israeli attacks against healthcare in Palestine began on October 7. Many of these reactions, predominantly signed by mainstream associations like the World Medical Association, can easily be summed up under the ‘Do you condemn Hamas?’ trope. While some of these statements may invoke the “unequivocal respect of international law,” they fail to identify the root causes of the current war on Palestine: Israeli settler colonialism and the daily violence faced by Palestinians.

In the United States, following the failure of the American Medical Association to uphold a statement which recognizes the ongoing genocidal attacks on Gaza, health workers and medical students continued to ask for immediate ceasefire. On November 22, more than 1,200 students from over 165 medical schools in the US published a statement where they insisted that physicians must not “remain silent when we witness the devastating wholesale murder of a population, collective punishment, and indiscriminate violent targeting of hospitals and healing spaces.”

Not only did they ask for an immediate and permanent ceasefire: the students also demanded accountability from the institutions that had already exposed pro-Palestinian voices in medicine to harassment. “We also ask that our medical institutions condemn the harmful rhetoric equating critiques of the state of Israel and Zionist ideologies to anti-Semitic stances,“ the students wrote.

Statements such as these signal that health and medical workers are now ready to take a more politicized stance, a right denied to them for a long time.

Read more: The Israeli attack on Palestinian health workers in Gaza and the failure of the American Medical Association

Parallel to the campaigns unfolding in the US, nine medical organizations in Indonesia, including the Indonesian Doctors’ Association, the Indonesian Midwives’ Association, and the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C)—credited with building and establishing the Indonesian Hospital in the Gaza Strip—coordinated a joint reaction to the situation health workers in Palestine are facing. These organizations stated that Israel’s “actions are nothing short of the worst genocide of this century.”

As MER-C volunteers had to find shelter in the basement of the Indonesian Hospital along with patients and other health personnel during another round of attacks on the buildings, the organization also wrote to US President Joe Biden. Among other things, they criticized his response to Israel’s attacks, citing that it “insulted the authority of the United Nations, undermined the sense of justice, disregarded human values, and tarnished the face of human civilization.”

The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (HAITU) from South Africa called for an immediate ceasefire and, notably, justice for Palestine, drawing from its own experience living in an apartheid state. “We experienced Apartheid in South Africa, and we recognize the brutality,” stated HAITU in its message. “We believe in peace, which can only be achieved if the people of Palestine have equal rights, peaceful living conditions, and independence in their homeland. They have the right to be free.”

Read more: Israel’s war machine can’t break the steadfastness of Palestinian health workers

Doctors and other medical personnel organized protests and pickets in the US, the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, and Pakistan, among other places. In Pakistan, members of the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, the Pakistan Medical Association, and the Young Doctors Association had previously reacted to the attacks on health in Palestine. During a press conference in Karachi, representatives of these organizations emphasized the need for adequate aid to reach Gaza and for health workers to be granted access to ease the burden on those who have been working without pause for the past month.

In South Africa, health workers also organized a picket near the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, one of the largest pediatric institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. They strategically chose this location to highlight the high number of children killed and wounded during Israeli attacks on Palestine. Hundreds of health workers attended the protest. Pediatrician Samah El-Boraei, speaking to Independent Online, stated that the health workers were urging action: “We can’t sit by and watch this happen to our colleagues. We can’t imagine having to leave a hospital and evacuate in an hour, those things are completely insane. There needs to be a ceasefire.“

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