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War on Gaza: UK health workers must stand in solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues

Every day, medics in Gaza risk death tending to their patients, showing the world what it truly means to serve humanity
Medics treat a wounded child at Kuwait hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following an Israeli strike on 28 December 2023 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Medics treat a wounded child at Kuwait hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following an Israeli strike on 28 December 2023 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Hundreds of people took part in a Workers for a Free Palestine action last month outside an aerospace firm in Dorset over its business relationship with the Israeli military, which continues to launch lethal attacks on Palestinians besieged in Gaza.

Over 600 people from various sectors, including education, healthcare and hospitality, blockaded a factory that produces air-to-air refuelling systems used by Israel’s armed forces, calling for an end to these transactions.

This collective action came following a broader call that was made by a coalition of over 30 Palestinian trade unions in response to Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. The call urged workers to "end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes - most urgently halting the arms trade”. 

The UK is an active participant in this genocide, both as it encourages Israel to “defend itself” and continues to provide arms to do so. With such horror being wrought from our doorstep, it is morally imperative that we heed our responsibility as workers to answer this call.

As an NHS pharmacist, I joined hundreds of UK health workers who felt this keenly.

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Since Israel’s merciless attacks on Gaza began, over 22,000 Palestinians have been killed according to official accounts. The real figure is likely to be considerably higher as thousands of bodies remain buried under the rubble; health workers have been visibly organising in solidarity.

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Health workers have watched in horror as Israel has targeted hospitals, ambulances and healthcare centres, and even bombed maternity wards.

The growing death toll of fellow healthcare workers also continues to rise, with 340 recorded as killed according to the Healthcare Workers Watch - Palestine. This targeting of medical care in Gaza has led to health workers around the world organising in solidarity, and in protest. 

Protests and vigils

Human Rights Watch stated that Israel’s “attacks on medical facilities, personnel, and transport are further destroying Gaza’s healthcare system and should be investigated as war crimes”.

In response to this, Health Workers for a Free Palestine arranged their first action on 9 November, uniting hundreds of healthcare workers across London, protesting outside the Department of Health, followed by a vigil outside 10 Downing Street for health workers killed in Gaza.

Brave Palestinian healthcare workers have continued to show the world what it means to truly serve humanity

Health workers joined their colleagues in Gaza to call for a ceasefire, to stop arming Israel, and to end the occupation of Palestine.

Many of us in the healthcare sector have also been mobilised by the global direct call made by Palestinian healthcare unions demanding “solidarity and immediate assistance” from us.

The brave Palestinian healthcare workers have continued to show the world what it means to truly serve humanity, by tending to patients despite the heightened risk of death - many even paying with their lives for refusing to leave hospitals amid Israel’s air strikes.

They send messages of hope and inspiration as they sing songs of steadfastness and continue to treat wounded patients without basic materials.

Pregnant Palestinian women are being forced to undergo C-sections without anaesthesia, while surgeons are having to perform amputations on children without anaesthesia and painkillers due to the blockade of medical supplies and aid imposed by Israel.

Duty of care

Taking action against the very institutions complicit in taking the lives of Palestinians is taking very seriously the responsibility of a duty of care. It is recognising that the lives of the oppressed and harmed anywhere in the world matter as much as our own.

This is why my duty of care extends beyond borders, and taking action to fight for the freedom of the Palestinians, including showing solidarity and opposing the colonial crimes that are justified as self-defence, abetted by the UK government, is a crucial part of my code of conduct.

How Israel's genocide in Gaza sparked a protest movement in the UK
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Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, forced to leave Gaza as his job as a surgeon became impossible, states that "even when we leave Palestine, Palestine never leaves us".

This feeling transcends to those who have been virtually witnessing the daily massacres of Palestinians play out, trying to comprehend to what extent western politicians will allow such horrors against humanity to continue before calling for a permanent ceasefire. 

As the healthcare system in Gaza continues to collapse - with mass hunger, thirst and an increase in infectious diseases - life is deemed unsafe for the population of Gaza, including any aid workers.

There is an immediate and urgent call for all healthcare workers to join the actions, answer the pleas of our colleagues in Gaza, and stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

All healthcare workers should seek to be on the right side of history; if not now, when? 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Hannah Bouattia is an art reviewer, artist and pharmacist based in London
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