Israel’s war on Gaza is a health justice issue, too | Israel War on Gaza

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This week, more than 40 organisations working on health justice around the globe put out an urgent call to the global health and human rights community. In an open letter, we issued a call to global health bodies, health institutions, professional associations and the World Medical Association (WMA) to take immediate action on the Israeli government’s continuing onslaught on Gaza – because the war on Palestine is an issue of health justice, too.

Israel’s onslaught – which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled “plausibly” meets the conditions of genocide – has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 Palestinians in less than five months. This means that since October 7, the Israeli military has killed 250 Palestinians on average per day – a higher death rate than any other 21st-century conflict. Additionally, more than 70,000 Palestinians have been wounded and over a million have been displaced.

Israel’s deliberate targeting of hospitals across Gaza – considered a war crime under international law – undoubtedly contributed to this staggering death toll. At the time of writing, only 11 out of Gaza’s 35 hospitals are partially functional.

Israel has destroyed much more than Gaza’s hospitals. The targeting of laboratories, other health facilities, ambulances, doctors, nurses and patients, coupled with the blockade on lifesaving medical supplies, has put a wrecking ball through Gaza’s entire health system and left 2.2 million people with little access to healthcare at a time they are facing near constant, indiscriminate bombardment and the threat of famine. Since the beginning of the war, at least 337 health workers have been killed, including two of only four pathologists in Gaza.

People suffering from chronic illnesses are unable to access vital medicines, and disease is spreading at an unprecedented rate amid a sanitation crisis caused by a severe lack of access to clean water. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the state of healthcare in Gaza as being “beyond words”.

Research published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom suggests an escalation of the conflict could lead to nearly 86,000 excess deaths over the next six months once the effects of war-induced disease, epidemics and malnutrition are accounted for. The report estimates that even if there is no escalation, and conditions remain as they are today, there will still be 66,720 excess deaths in Gaza over the next six months.

This is why, as activists, health workers and organisations working in the health sector for justice, equity, anti-racism and decolonisation, we are using our voices to speak up and urge as well as compel our colleagues and others, especially global health bodies and associations, to take action. As Israel uses healthcare, food and water as weapons of war, we know all too well – as organisations that have worked on issues of health justice and access to medicines for millions of people around the world – that it is imperative that we speak up and demand an end to impunity, and real action and consequences.

So why target our call to the global health community? We feel that there has been a widespread lack of regard by many in this community for the unfolding health crisis in Gaza. As we also noted in the open letter we published this week, hardly any discussion on the current state of health services in Gaza has graced the pages of the 17 global health journals that currently fill the public space. Our research shows that a PubMed search on journal articles containing the words “Global Health”, “Gaza” and “health” published since October 2023 retrieved only two, published by The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, that featured any discussion about the ethical, human rights and professional challenges that arose from the current conflict.

So we ask: why have our universities, medical schools, professional associations and academic bodies remained silent? Save for a few, isolated public statements, the response from those who we expect to maintain the highest medical and scientific professional and ethical standards around the world has been a deafening silence.

While the American Medical Association (AMA) rightfully issued, in 2022, a very strong condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an effort by some members to do the same for Israel’s war on Gaza in 2023 was shut down. And at this stage of the genocide, any continued silence will be judged as complicity.

This demonstrates blatant double standards that can only be explained by racist dehumanisation of the Palestinian people.

A climate of virulent censorship, especially in the Global North, has also led to open victimisation of health workers and academics who dare to speak out in their personal capacity in defence of the rights of Palestinians and against racism. But we refuse to be silenced, and we call on the global health community at large to stand firm in the face of this intimidation.

We must call out Israel’s war crimes and unequivocally condemn the genocide that is under way in Gaza – and Israel’s long-standing medical apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories – and support colleagues who are being targeted for speaking out about anti-Palestinian racism.

We must also pressure all governments to immediately resume and increase funding for the critical work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and other agencies helping Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere in occupied territory. We should refuse to collaborate with Israeli health institutions, universities, research councils, pharmaceutical companies and any organisations affiliated with the military in any form.

As health professionals and activists, we are obliged to speak out, both morally and professionally. We are also obliged to take whatever steps in our power to halt and prevent this genocide. To do anything less would be a complete dereliction of our duty to support and uphold the right – of everyone – to health.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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