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Thousands of doctors join calls for ceasefire and an end to siege in Gaza

Introduction by Croakey: More than 3,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals from around the world have called for an immediate ceasefire and lifting of the siege in Gaza.

Signatories to an open letter published in full below – from Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Jordan, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, Malaysia, Aotearoa New Zealand and other countries – call for “respect of and accountability to international humanitarian law” and for safeguarding of the physical and mental health and welfare of children, pregnant women, elderly, disabled and wounded.

They also call for “the  unequivocal protection of health services and those receiving or providing all forms of healthcare, as well as facilitating the delivery of care by humanitarian actors”, and urge colleagues to “donate what we can – money, knowledge, and human resources – to support justice and peace in the region”.

Australian signatories include Fellows of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Australian College for Rural and Remote Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. The full list is here, and others are also invited to sign.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has condemned the attacks on 3 November near Al-Shifa Hospital, Al-Quds Hospital, and the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza City and North Gaza governorates.

“Attacks on healthcare, including the targeting of hospitals and restricting the delivery of essential aid such as medical supplies, fuel, and water, may amount to violations of International Humanitarian Law,” said a WHO statement on 4 November.

“WHO reiterates its call for an immediate ceasefire, emphasising the urgent need to protect all health workers, patients, health transport, and health facilities.”

In a previous statement, on 3 November, the WHO and other agencies said women, children and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately bearing the burden of the escalation of hostilities in the occupied Palestinian territory, as casualties and in reduced access to health services.

As of 3 November, 3,760 children and 2,326 women had been killed in the Gaza strip, representing 67 percent of all casualties, said the joint statement by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), citing Ministry of Health data.

Thousands more were being injured. “This means that 420 children are killed or injured every day, some of them only a few months old,” said the statement.

Bombardments, damaged or non-functioning health facilities, massive levels of displacement, collapsing water and electricity supplies as well as restricted access to food and medicines, are severely disrupting maternal, newborn, and child health services, the statement said.

An estimated 50,000 pregnant women are in Gaza, with more than 180 giving birth every day. With 14 hospitals and 45 primary healthcare centres closed, some women are having to give birth in shelters, in their homes, in the streets amid rubble, or in overwhelmed healthcare facilities, where sanitation is worsening, and the risk of infection and medical complications is on the rise, the statement said.


A call to action: an open letter from global health professionals

The world is alight with horror, grief, and rage. In the last 15 days, we witnessed the mass killing of civilians and numerous violations of international law. The October 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1400 Israelis.[1]

Since then, over 5790 Palestinians have been killed  in Gaza, and 95 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank.[2] These events occurred in the context of the decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories.[3]

This escalation of hatred and violence needs to stop. We can and must do better to uphold human rights, health, and wellbeing through coordinated, immediate actions.[3,4]

The clarion call of the global health movement is to act for humanity regardless of borders or identity. [5]

As global health professionals, we strive for health, human flourishing, equity, peace, justice, and the end of colonialism in all its manifestations. We also unequivocally condemn violence against Indigenous peoples globally.[6]

Of paramount importance, as global health professionals we act in kinship with fellow humans. We recognise that “there is no hierarchy in pain and suffering.”[7]

Because we are human, we witness the deep pain and suffering: the Israeli and Palestinian civilians who have been killed or injured are all our parents, grandparents, siblings, and children. We share the call for ‘unconditional humanity’ in Gaza and to guarantee health through peace.[4,8]

In the last days and weeks, we have heard statements from WHO, UN Experts, MSF, IFRC, ICRC and others, unequivocally condemning acts of violence against the people of the occupied Palestinian territories.[7-10]

In particular, these statements condemn the cut off of food, water, electricity and life-saving supplies to the Gaza region, attacks on health facilities and personnel, as well as the lack of civilian safe zones and a humanitarian corridor.

The most vulnerable in Gaza – including those who are sick, wounded, pregnant, young, and elderly – disproportionately face the consequences of direct and indiscriminate attacks and violence.[11]

The fast rise in misinformation,[12] weaponizing collective grief, polarisation of public sentiment [13] and dehumanisation [14] of people trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of violence distracts the international community from bearing witness and providing unconditional aid to people in need.

We call for all to uphold the primacy of health and humanity, regardless of nationality, identity, religion, or geographic location, and to prioritise the immediate establishment of continuous and effective life-saving safe zones and humanitarian corridors in and out of Gaza,  and recognition of the human rights of civilians in the region and immediate action to uphold these rights.

Since the establishment of the United Nations and its agencies in the post-war period, global governance has been based on an important social contract: one where we trust those elected by us or by our elected representatives to act on our behalf and in our collective interests.

As global health professionals, we have witnessed the continual refusal and/or failure to act by those in positions of power and trust: on the climate and environmental crisis, on sustainable development, on socioeconomic inequity, on harmful commercial interests, and on conflict.

As global citizens and health professionals, it is increasingly clear that we cannot leave it to others to act without speaking up. Silence is itself part of the problem.

We call for:

Immediate humanitarian priorities

  1. An immediate ceasefire and the lifting of the siege in Gaza.
  2. Respect of and accountability to international humanitarian law
  3. The immediate establishment of continuous and effective safe zones, humanitarian corridors, the right to flee and right of return.
  4. The recognition of the human rights of all people in the region, including the right to health, access to water and food, and immediate action to uphold these rights
  5. Safeguarding the physical and mental health and welfare of children, pregnant women, elderly, disabled and wounded as most vulnerable in conflict and ensure immediate passage and fair distribution of aid to all to meet their basic and special needs.
  6. The immediate flow of essential supplies and other humanitarian support into Gaza
  7. The unequivocal protection of health services and those receiving or providing all forms of health care, as well as facilitating the delivery of care by humanitarian actors. This includes protections against the destruction of all critical infrastructure and objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, including but not limited to hospitals and other centres delivering healthcare services as well as roads, clean water, uninterrupted electricity, and other necessary tools and supplies.

Longer term objectives

  1. Unfettered access for organisations investigating alleged war crimes, including the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital
  2. New determination to equitably meet the needs of all on the basis of self-determination, justice, and human rights for all
  3. Uphold and enforce actions to address hate crime based on antisemitism and islamophobia worldwide
  4. International solidarity to support those displaced by the violence, in the form of humanitarian or financial support, asylum, or by whatever needed means to grant displaced persons dignity, autonomy, recovery, and the right to return.

We also urge colleagues to:

  1. Write letters to politicians and other elected officials to urge them to take actions to stop the killing of civilians
  2. Amplify and elevate the voices of those most impacted by the conflict.
  3. Work to ensure the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the right of Palestinians, Israelis, and all people to live with dignity, equality, and freedom
  4. Uphold respect and non-violence in our communities and workplaces
  5. Support nonviolent movements to place pressure on governments to uphold human rights and enforce international law
  6. Donate what we can – money, knowledge, and human resources – to support justice and peace in the region
  7. Share this widely.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the time and care taken by everyone who contributed to collaboratively drafting this letter and call to action. Thank you for sharing your expertise and kindness.

References

  1. UN OCHA. Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel | Flash Update #15. 2023. Accessed 20 October 2023. Available at: https://www.ochaopt.org/content/hostilities-gaza-strip-and-israel-flash-update-15
  2. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel | Flash Update #18. Last accessed October 25 2023.
  3. https://www.unocha.org/publications/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/hostilities-gaza-strip-and-israel-flash-update-18
  4. Smith J, Kwong EJL, Hanbali E, Hafez S, Neilson A, Khoury R. Violence in Palestine demands immediate resolution of its settler colonial root causes. (In publication, BMJ)
  5. Medact. End the bloodshed: Medact statement on Palestine. 2023. Available at: https://www.medact.org/2023/blogs/end-the-bloodshed-medact-statement-on-palestine/
  6. Koplan JP, Bond TC, Merson MH, Reddy KS, Rodriguez MH, Sewankambo NK, Wasserheit JN; Consortium of Universities for Global Health Executive Board. Towards a common definition of global health. Lancet. 2009 Jun 6;373(9679):1993-5. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60332-9
  7. World Health Assembly. Resolution on the Health of Indigenous Peoples. 2023. WHA76.16. Available at: https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA76/A76_R16-en.pdf
  8. Chapagain J, Mardini R. Joint Statement from Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the IFRC and Robert Mardini, Director General of the ICRC, on the escalation of hostilities in Israel and Gaza. October 16 2023. Accessed 19 October 2023. Available at: https://blogs.icrc.org/ir/en/2023/10/joint-statement-from-jagan-chapagain-secretary-general-of-the-ifrc-and-robert-mardini-director-general-of-the-icrc-on-the-escalation-of-hostilities-in-israel-and-gaza/
  9. Christou, C. Unconditional humanity needs to be restored in Gaza. 17 October 2023. Accessed 19 October 2023. Available at: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/unconditional-humanity-needs-be-restored-gaza
  10. World Health Organization. WHO statement on attack on Al Ahli Arab Hospital and reported large-scale casualties. 17 October 2023. Accessed 19 October 2023. Available at: https://www.who.int/news/item/17-10-2023-who-statement-on-attack-on-al-ahli-arab-hospital-and-reported-large-scale-casualties
  11. OHCHR. Israel/occupied Palestinian territory: UN experts deplore attacks on civilians, call for truce and urge international community to address root causes of violence. 12 October 2023. Accessed 19 October 2023. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/10/israeloccupied-palestinian-territory-un-experts-deplore-attacks-civilians
  12. UN News. Gaza: Forcing patients to flee hospitals a ‘death sentence’ warns WHO. 14 October 2023. Available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/10/1142347
  13. Dwoskin E. A flood of misinformation shapes views of Israel-Gaza conflict. 2023. Washington Post. Accessed 19 October 2023. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/10/14/propaganda-misinformation-israel-hamas-war-social-media/
  14. NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. Fueling the Fire: How Social Media Intensifies U.S. Political Polarization — And What Can Be Done About It. 2021. NYU; New York. Available at: https://www.stern.nyu.edu/experience-stern/faculty-research/fueling-fire-how-social-media-intensifies-u-s-political-polarization-and-what-can-be-done-about-it
  15. McGreal C. The language being used to describe Palestinians is genocidal. The Guardian. 16 October 2023. Accessed 20 October 2023. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/16/the-language-being-used-to-describe-palestinians-is-genocidal.

Note from Croakey: The letter above was published with permission.


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