Wounded child, no surviving family (WCNSF)– a new acronym created by healthcare workers in Gaza; a glimpse of the horrors they are witnessing. With more than 10,000 children killed and 25,000 newly orphaned, a UNICEF spokesperson has said, “This is a war on children.”
The catastrophe is indiscriminate and immense. Over 20,000 people have been killed and almost 50,000 are injured. Essential supply chains of food, water, fuel, and medicines have been decimated. Infectious diseases are ravaging the more than 1.9 million displaced people, almost half of whom are children. Most of the population are suffering from dehydration and are not able to access food every day. Health needs are immense and growing, yet healthcare is being specifically targeted including bombings of ambulances and hospitals and sniper attacks on medical professionals. Hundreds of healthcare workers have been killed and injured and over 100 are currently detained without charges.
Doctors have a moral obligation to speak out
The siege on Gaza has been described as “a textbook case of genocide” by genocide scholar Dr. Raz Segal. As a brown skinned doctor and as a human-being, I am alarmed witnessing the ease with which brown lives, especially children, are devalued and dehumanized. How has the world transformed these innocent civilians deserving of fundamental human rights into “human shields” and “collateral damage”?
Palestinians are live streaming this destruction, begging us to unite our voices in a collective call to stop these atrocities yet many of us have been actively silenced.
As doctors, we have a moral obligation to speak out against the horrors unfolding. The defence of justice is one of medicine’s core ethical principles. Despite this, some have instructed us to stay quiet. We are told that the attack on Gaza is “too complicated” for us to understand and that we are “biased.” A recent open letter signed by 555 physicians at my university stated, “We know that accusations against Israel as ‘apartheid,’ ‘colonialist,’ or ‘white supremacist’ or committing genocide are mendacious [lies] and aim to promote the argument that Israel should be dismantled as a Jewish state, making such accusations themselves antisemitic.” With genocide unfolding against many innocent families in Gaza, how could we be prohibited from speaking on this topic?
It is impossible to ignore how racism and xenophobia are infused within these chilling calls for silence. Seeing the images from Gaza being shared en masse and in real time, many of us imagine holding our own children– the souls of our souls–their brown skin covered in ash, bones broken, their terrified screaming; or worse, silence as the breath leaves their bodies for the last time. Would anyone speak up for them?
As health care workers, we cannot look away
Despite this siege, Palestinian civilians continue to show their deep humanity. They hold each other’s petrified children, help dig bodies from the rubble, and try to comfort each other. Healthcare providers continue working in inhumane conditions with no anesthesia, few medications, little water, and no fuel, often while being attacked. Journalists and other civilians broadcast these horrors to the world while begging for peace, human rights, and compliance with international law – pleading for us to recognize their humanity and raise our voices in solidarity.
Dr. Mahmoud Abu Nujaila, a physician and father to 3 young children, was killed in an attack on Al-Awda Hospital where he was working. He wrote on the whiteboard usually used to plan surgeries, “We did what we could. Remember us.” As fellow healthcare workers, and human brothers, sisters and kin, we cannot look away.
Canada’s support of a ceasefire at the United Nations is a positive symbolic first step. Now we must insist that our government use its maximum efforts to materially and tangibly support the implementation of an immediate and permanent ceasefire, (including the suspension of any arms or finances that may be used to commit genocide), the safe release of all hostages on both sides, and access to all necessary critical humanitarian and medical aid.
In this moment, I must stand against the genocide of Palestinians and the destruction of their communities. I will not be silenced. I hope that other medical professionals, leaders, and members of the public will join the growing pleas for an end to these horrors. Collectively, our voices will rise in calls for peace, dignity, human rights and liberation for all people.
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