British healthcare workers in uniform protested outside Downing Street on Friday to commemorate almost 200 clinicians killed in Gaza since Israel’s bombardment began. The vigil was organised to call on Rishi Sunak to push for an urgent ceasefire.
Many of the hospital workers taking part carried one of 189 different signs bearing the name of a healthcare worker killed in Gaza in the past month. Organisers said that in the time it took for the names to be printed, several more would have died.
Many were dressed in scrubs, some coming straight from shifts, their NHS lanyards still showing. They held a minute’s silence before reading out the names of their colleagues killed in Gaza and chanting “ceasefire now”.
Nick Maynard, a gastrointestinal surgeon from Oxford who leads a teaching initiative in Gaza and the West Bank, held up a sign bearing the name of a paramedic killed in the latest bombardment. He said some of the Palestinians clinicians he had worked with in Gaza had been killed in recent weeks. “They’re not terrorists. They’re innocent,” he said.
Hospitals continue to be targeted in Gaza, with its largest hospital, al-Shifa, hit by Israeli fire early on Friday morning. The Israeli army claims Hamas hides in and under hospitals and has set up a command centre beneath al-Shifa – which hospital staff deny.
Describing the situation for clinicians working there, Maynard said: “It’s surrounded by tanks and ground troops and the doctors and nurses are still trying to treat their patients despite knowing they may die as a result.”
The Westminster protest was organised by Omar Abdel-Mannan, a paediatric neurologist working in London who runs Gaza Medic Voices, an organisation broadcasting messages on social media from Gaza clinicians.
Commenting on the almost 200 healthcare workers killed in Gaza in the past month, Dr Abdel-Mannan, said: “When you think about the 10,000 people that have died so far inside Gaza, this is a small minority, but it’s an important minority because these are healthcare workers that should be looking after people, should be saving lives and yet they are being targeted and systematically wiped out.”
Izzeldin Abuelaish, a professor of global health who was the first Palestinian doctor on staff in an Israeli hospital, was one of the speakers. He said the international community needed to act urgently to stop further killings of healthcare workers, civilians and children.
Speaking before the protest, he said: “We need an immediate ceasefire, immediately saving lives, immediately stopping the bloodshed. That’s the priority. As a medical doctor that’s what I call on the world to do. It’s not a matter of negotiation, it’s a matter of action now.”
Abuelaish said that a lack of power and clean water was forcing clinicians to perform operations without proper sterilisation or anaesthetic, and many were being killed doing their work.
The professor fled Gaza for Canada after his three daughters and a niece were killed in their home by Israeli tank fire in the 2009 Gaza war. His book I Shall Not Hate told the story of his quest for peace after their death.
Abuelaish said his sister was among tens of thousands of Palestinians sheltering at al-Shifa on Friday, and had been forced to leave. “Even today my sister was at Shifa hospital and they attacked the hospital. The hospital should be a sacred place. There is nowhere to go,” he said.
He has not been able to reach his family in Jabalia refugee camp, including his brothers and sisters. “I can’t get in touch with them. I don’t know if they’re alive or not. Tens of my family members were killed, and now, if they are living, they are moving coffins. That’s what they are. Just waiting [to see] who will be next to be killed, to be attacked.”
A letter to the British Medical Association signed by 2,900 doctors, as well as other BMA members, was sent on Friday to demand more action and stronger support of Palestinians. “Our medical colleagues in Gaza are exhausted and essential resources needed to care for patients are running out,” it said. “This situation is not sustainable or humane, and is categorically morally and legally unacceptable.”
The letter expressed “grave concern at the increasing political repression of those calling for a ceasefire and freedom for the Palestinian people”.
Medics have said they feel abandoned in Gaza, where as of last week more than a third of hospitals were no longer functioning.
Mohammed Zaqout, director-general of Gaza hospitals, said on Friday they were facing a “catastrophic situation” without electricity, water or food. “We are unable to provide services to the wounded and the hospitals are continuously bombed by Israel,” Zaqout said.
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