Healthcare workers in solidarity with Palestine

On 11 October, the fifth day of the war on Gaza, emergency services at Al Shifa Hospital received a call from a nearby neighbourhood. The assault by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) had caused mass casualties in the vicinity of the Karni Crossing. 

Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances had to wait to receive clearance from Israel. The green light came, and paramedic Hatem Awad raced to respond. Before he could arrive at the scene, his ambulance was targeted and hit by an air strike. Hatem was the fourth paramedic killed by the IOF that day. After nearly six months of war, 410 Israeli attacks on healthcare have resulted in 685 fatalities and 902 injuries and damaged 99 facilities and 104 ambulances, the World Health Organisation reported on 19 March. But these aren’t just numbers. They are people, like Hatem. 

Hatem Awad stands beside his ambulance

Coupled with the blockade of medical supplies, fuel for hospital generators, food and water, Israel has engineered the total collapse of a healthcare system serving more than two million people. 

Aotearoa Healthcare Workers for Palestine (AHW4P) was formed a month after the outbreak of the war on Gaza, in response to this pending catastrophe and war crime. We came together around an open letter calling on the New Zealand Government to demand an immediate ceasefire and for all parties to uphold international humanitarian law. 

The letter quickly garnered more than 1,500 signatures from healthcare workers and was presented at Parliament on 21 November. We established a 14-member interim committee – made up of doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and allied health professionals from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland in the north down to Ōtautahi Christchurch in the south – headed by Dr Ruba Harfeil, a Palestinian doctor now practising as a GP in rural Waikato. We agreed a mission statement acknowledging that the colonial violence in Aotearoa and Palestine is connected. We created a closed Facebook group for organising and a public Instagram account

Over the succeeding weeks and months, we have organised and participated in many solidarity actions within the health sector and in the wider Palestine solidarity movement. 

International links to similar groups overseas led us from the outset to participate in Friday vigils by healthcare workers worldwide, inspired by a vigil in London in November which captured global media attention. 

A Friday vigil at Ngā Puna Waiora Wellington Regional Hospital

We also participate as a contingent in the many rallies and marches which have been taking place across Aotearoa, highlighting the impact of Israel’s war on the health of the Palestinian population, and issue media releases

An AHW4P contingent march in Tāmaki Makaurau

On International Working Women’s Day, we organised a powerful vigil outside the Israeli Embassy. 

And we have collaborated in a range of actions with other groups, including Palestinian Youth Aotearoa, Imamia Medics International NZ, Palestine Human Rights Campaign Waikato, Aotearoa for Ceasefire and Auckland Peace Action, Justice for Palestine and OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council. 

We have used our voices within health sector organisations to lobby for them to adopt positions of solidarity with Palestine. This has been most successful in the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa, which has spoken out strongly in the mainstream media and in blogs, based on a statement issued by the union’s board, and which this month joined the #BDS campaign by announcing a boycott of Hewlett-Packard. Other health unions, including the PSA Health Sector Committee and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Toi Mata Hauora, have also made statements after lobbying by of our members – as has the New Zealand College of Midwives Te Kāreti o Ngā Kaiwhakawhānau o Aotearoa

We have been less successful in our lobbying of medical professional bodies which, with the exception of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa Māori Medical Practitioners, have rejected our calls and remained silent in the face of genocide. Despite this, we persist. This month we surveyed the candidates standing for election to the Medical Council of New Zealand. We are in talks with the New Zealand Women in Medicine conference organising committee and are in the process of writing to all of the medical colleges and specialist associations. 

Our work continues to achieve a just and peaceful future for Gaza healthcare workers like Hatem Awad and for all Palestinian people. We invite any healthcare worker in Aotearoa who supports our mission to join us