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Doctors call for greater pressure on Israel over Gaza

*** This article was updated on 21 May to include the Australian Medical Association’s statement ***

Introduction by Croakey: Two recent letters from healthcare professionals — one to Foreign Minister Penny Wong and one to the Australian Medical Association (AMA) — are seeking greater pressure on Israel to act legally and address the suffering in Gaza.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) (MAPW) has written to Senator Wong regarding the situation in Gaza. The letter specifically draws attention to Israel’s legal obligations to protect healthcare in the territories it occupies, and urging Australian Government action to apply greater pressure on Israel to comply with those obligations.

As international pressure on Israel slowly and belatedly increases, MAPW wants the Australian Government to insist that Israel stand by its international obligations to care for those who are under its control.

Meanwhile, more than 1,200 doctors, medical students as well as healthcare worker and community allies have signed a letter to the Australian Medical Association calling on it to take a stronger line with the Federal Government over its support of Israel.

Authored by Dr Safiyyah Abbas and Dr Lucy Mitchell (who has written previously on the situation), they say the Government’s support, including the awarding of contracts to Israeli defence companies, is enabling the catastrophic situation in Gaza. The AMA, which supported moves to back Ukraine against Russian aggression, must step up the pressure on Canberra to take stronger action, they say

The doctors are calling on the AMA to continue its strong history of advocacy including on climate change, refugee rights, marriage equality, and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament. They now urge the AMA to take stronger action immediately in response to the crisis in Gaza.

The AMA has advised that it is formulating a response. (Update on 21 May: Details of the AMA’s letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese can be seen here. It is also published in full at the end of this post).

The letters came as Israeli forces began their offensive on Rafah, cutting off aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip in the process. The offensive prompted Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to call for the protection of civilians and the reopening of the Rafah border crossing.

In addition, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Adele Khodr, also said border crossings “must be swiftly opened, and humanitarian organisations allowed to safely move and provide critical life-saving assistance upon which all children in Gaza depend”.


10 May 2024

Dear Minister Wong

MAPW has written to you previously about Australia’s response to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The plight of civilians there – particularly the children – has deteriorated day by day, and is documented consistently in multiple credible reports by the world’s leading health and humanitarian agencies; you will of course be very familiar with them.

Israel has repeatedly violated its legal obligations towards Palestinian civilians. This letter addresses some of those violations, and strongly urges decisive Australian government actions to help restore the primacy of international humanitarian law.

As an occupying power which exercises control over Gaza, Israel has legal obligations towards the Palestinian people. One of those obligations is the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.

The same obligation flows from Israel’s responsibility to comply with the orders issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) earlier this year. On 26 January the ICJ ordered Israel to “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian aid”. Israel failed to comply, and on 28 March the ICJ repeated the order for the unhindered provision of all necessary aid, including “by increasing the capacity and number of land crossing points”.

Israel has not only totally ignored these obligations but has done the exact opposite.

Food is being withheld, those delivering it (including the World Food Kitchen) are targeted, and Palestinians waiting for food have come under fire. Hunger and severe malnutrition are widespread. Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food states that “We’ve never seen children pushed into malnutrition so quickly”.

Far from providing additional land entry points for food, this week Israel sealed the Rafah crossing into Egypt which was the primary entry point for aid into Gaza. Long lines of aid trucks are stuck on the Egyptian side of the border, while a very short distance away starvation, disease, and tens of thousand of injuries take an increasing and unconscionable toll.

In relation to the obligation to provide medical care to those whose land is under occupation, again Israel is doing the direct opposite. Its attacks on healthcare personnel and facilities have been relentless. There are no fully functional hospitals left in Gaza, and only a third of its 36 hospitals are partially functional. The World Health Organisation has described Israel’s “systematic dismantling of the healthcare” in Gaza. In April, mass graves with hundreds of bodies were found in the grounds of Khan Younis hospital.

In the face of such a dire situation, and with Israel showing total disregard for its legal obligations, MAPW is deeply alarmed by your government’s lack of meaningful and decisive action. It is imperative that political and military pressure be applied on Israel to comply with its legal obligations, and that consequences follow for failure to do so.

Therefore we call on you to take the following measures as a matter of urgency:

  • Publicly insist that Israel fulfil its obligations as an occupying power by restoring medical care to Palestinian civilians
  • Publicly insist that Israel fulfil its obligations under the Genocide Convention by re-opening all land crossings into Gaza for food and aid deliveries, and expanding the capacity for such deliveries
  • Publicly declare that Australia will impose consequences – in addition to the overdue steps set out below – on Israel for any invasion of Rafah

We repeat our earlier call that Australia cease all aspects of our military relationship with Israel, including

  • the export of all weapons and weapons parts and components to Israel
  • the $917m contract announced in late February this year for Elbit Systems Australia
  • the Australian Trade and Defence Office in Jerusalem

We request a response to these specific matters.
Yours sincerely
Dr Sue Wareham OAM
President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)


29 April 2024

Dear Professor Steve Robson and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Board,

We write to you as concerned doctors calling for the immediate protection of our colleagues and the innocent men, women, and children of Gaza.

As the representative body of Australian doctors and medical students, we implore you to call on the Australian government to end its complicity with Israel’s atrocities and take stronger actions to prevent further deaths and suffering.

In 2022, the AMA voiced its support for the people of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion and called on the Australian government to prioritise support for Ukrainian refugees. We welcome the AMA’s call for a ceasefire on April 24, 2024. We urge the AMA to take stronger action to stop the genocide and possible war crimes that we are witnessing.

Over 34,000 people in Gaza have been killed, including more than 14,000 children, 300 health workers, and 167 aid workers. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff have described “the absolute horror of patients and health workers caught up in an Israeli ‘kill zone’ in and around the hospital where everything that moves is targeted.” Disturbing reports of mass graves at Nasser and Al-Shifa Hospitals have emerged where “Palestinian victims were reportedly found stripped naked with their hands tied, prompting renewed concerns about possible war crimes” according to the United Nations (UN) human rights office, OHCHR.

We cannot abandon our colleagues and the innocent civilians in Gaza who continue to suffer unimaginably from Israel’s relentless and indiscriminate attacks.

We ask you to call on the Australian government to:
1) Support the calls of the World Health Organisation, UN Security Council (UNSC), and MSF for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid, and the protection of health workers, hospitals, and civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.
2) End its support of, and complicity in, Israel’s atrocities in Gaza. For example, the $917 million Australian army contract awarded to the Israeli weapons company Elbit systems must be revoked.
3) Take concrete actions to condemn Israel’s disregard of UNSC resolutions, including sanctions.
4) Prioritise support for Palestinians seeking refuge in Australia.

As Jennifer Tierney, executive director of MSF Australia, stated on April 12, 2024:

“All states that continue to support Israel’s reckless and disproportionate attacks in Gaza are morally and politically complicit in the atrocities being committed … Australia needs to stand on the right side of history, the side that upholds rather than undermines international humanitarian law.

The AMA is uniquely positioned to influence our government. We ask the AMA’s leadership to uphold our medical ethical principles and maintain our profession’s integrity and dignity.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Safiyyah Abbas, MBBS, MPHTM, and Dr Lucy Mitchell, MD, BA (Hons 1)

Co-signed by the following doctors and medical students:
1. Dr Sana Pathan, FRANZCP
2. Dr Kate Douglas , MBBS FRACGP
3. Dr Faraz Yusuf, MBBS
4. Dr Miranda Robinson , MBChB FRANZCOG
5. Dr Lucy Jirasek, FRACGP MBBS
6. Dr Rita Almohty, Fracgp
7. Dr Jacqueline McCallum, B. Med, B. Biomed. Sc., FANZCA
8. Dr Raqeeb Rasul, MD
9. Dr Kate Ahmad, MBBS (Hons) FRACP
10. Dr. Nilanthy Vigneswaran, MBBS MPHTM
11. Dr Carolyn Bursle, Paediatrician
12. Dr Kate Johnson, Mbbs fracp (neurologist)
13. Dr Sofia Padhy, MBBS FANZCA
14. Dr Naomi Zeraati, MBChB, FRACGP
15. Dr Nadia Hasan, MBBS, MPH
16. Dr Jama Yasin Farah, Medical Doctor, Resident
17. Dr Faizy Kakkat, MBBS
18. Dr. Doaa Sayed, FANZCA
19. Dr Tasafin Hossain, MBBS, FRACP
20. Dr Hanaa Osman, MBBCh
21. Dr Anna Levinson, MBBS, FRACGP
22. Dr Noor Aljassim, Registrar
23. Dr Kieran Gossage, MD, FRACGP
24. Dr. Alyah Seif, Paediatric Registrar
25. Dr Anam Kamran, MBBS FRACGP
26. Dr Azni Wahab, FRACP , MBBS
27. Dr Khadijah Shah Idil, MBBS FRANZCP
28. Dr Irma Bilgrami, MBChB
29. Dr Ellen Meyns, Emergency physician
30. Dr Sara Al Samail, GP
31. Dr Linda Warren, BA, MD
32. Dr. Samiyah Farah, MD, BBMedSci
33. Dr Belal Haniffa, BMed FRACGP
34. Dr Bushra Farooq, MBBS
35. Dr Shumaila Panhwar, BBNSc, BMBS, FRACGP
36. Dr Mona Salim, GP
37. Dr Anisa Abu Baker, MBBS. FANZCA
38. Dr Mooska Raoofi, MBBS, FRANZCOG
39. Dr Tarini Srivastava, MBBS
40. Dr Iman hegazy, MBBCh, MRCPCH, FRACP
41. Dr Shenaz Seedat, MBBS, FRACP (Endocrinology)
42. Dr S Quadri, Emergency Doctor
43. Dr Ayesha Choudhury, MBBS, FRACGP
44. Dr Saba Javed, FRANZCP
45. Dr Lauren Byrne, MBBS
46. Dr Alice Stoneman , BMedSc MBBS FRACGP
47. Dr Zohra Najeeb, Resident medical officer
48. Dr. Rokkiah Tawi, General practitioner, MBBS
49. Dr. Siew Meng Lum, MBBS, General practitioner
50. Dr Sanjana Kannan Sud, MBBS FRANZCOG
51. Dr Ahamed Himam Hamza, MBBS FRACGP
52. Dr Oine Omakwu, FACEM
53. Dr Bree Rebolledo, BMed, PgDipSurgSci, MPH, FRACS
54. Dr Adrian James Conner, FACRRM
55. Dr Fiona Wallace, MBBS, MA, FACRRM.
56. Dr Akil Islam, MBBS FRACGP FACRRM CHIA
57. Dr Zewlan Moor, FRACGP MBBS BSc (Med) BA (Hons 1)
58. Dr Saya Aziz, FANZCA, MBBS, BSc (Hons)
59. Dr Sofia Badran, MD
60. Dr Andrew Jorgensen, BSc MBBS FANZCA
61. Dr Tara Hillister , FRACGP MBBS BSc
62. Dr Sarah Abdo, consultant endocrinologist
63. Dr Azra Naseem, MBBS, FRANZCOG
64. Dr Catherine Quinlan, MB BAO BCh CHIA MSc(MedEd) MD(Res) ExecMBA MRCPI FRACP FASN
65. Dr Farhan Ali Khan, Doctor of medicine
66.