“Hospitals Are Not Targets”: Sydney Healthcare Workers Continue to Call for Gaza Ceasefire

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Healthcare Workers Gaza

The ongoing genocide in Gaza is a crime against all humanity as it legitimises the killing of innocent children, civilian women and men, as well as the targeted killing of journalists and healthcare workers, so as to ensure the annihilation of a group of people, without record or chance of recovery.

So blatant has this disregard for the sanctity of life been that South Africa has taken the step of lodging an application with the International Court of Justice to implement proceedings against Israel over the international offence of genocide against Palestinians perpetrated in multiple forms.

The South African claim outlines that as of 29 December, when it was submitted to the ICJ, “over 311 doctors, nurses and other health workers, including… ambulance drivers” had been killed since the wholesale slaughter of the 2.3 million Palestinians of Gaza began on 7 October.

The taking out of hospitals on the pretext that they hold Hamas command centres has not only been refuted, but it’s set new lows for humanity as it witnessed the storming of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest, as well as Rantisi Children’s Hospital, which housed the only child paediatric cancer ward.

So, Healthcare Workers for Palestine NSW have again mobilised on the Sydney streets to call out the purposeful killing of doctors, nurses and other care workers, who are protected under international humanitarian law, especially as many local elected officials deem this all merely Israeli self-defence.

Healthcare Workers for Palestine rally in downtown Sydney on 5 January 2024
Healthcare Workers for Palestine rally in downtown Sydney on 5 January 2024

Cowardice and complicity

“We are a nonpartisan collective of doctors, nurses, allied health therapists, and other healthcare workers,” Dr Safiyyah Abbas told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

“We continue to be horrified by both the indiscriminate and relentless Israeli military attacks on Gaza,” she continued, “and the cowardice and complicity of our Australian government and medical bodies who have historically criticised Russia for their violations of international humanitarian law.”

The Albanese government, along with the rest of the western allies following the lead of the US, trumpeted the catchphrase, “Israel has the right to defend itself”, when it has been obvious, since the carnage began, that Tel Aviv has been attempting to wipe out the Palestinians of Gaza.

Australia refrained from calling for a ceasefire until 13 December, when PM Anthony Albanese put his name to a joint ceasefire statement with his Canadian and NZ counterparts. But, on closer perusal, it’s found that the call was for halt to fighting down the track once Hamas is no more.

“It is our moral imperative and duty as healthcare workers to support the safety and wellbeing of all people,” Abbas made clear. “Gaza’s healthcare system has been decimated yet continues to care for an overwhelming caseload of patients with severe injuries.”

Into their own hands

Dozens of Sydney’s healthcare workers gathered before the Queen Victoria Building last Friday evening at 7.15 pm, with the attitude that if Australian politicians and the mainstream media are going to hide these atrocities from the public, then it’s up to them to inform the people.

Healthcare Workers for Palestine NSW is part of a global movement that has formed over recent months, which has seen healthcare workers, agencies and NGOs mobilising in aid of stopping the Gaza genocide.

“For 13 weeks the people of Gaza have endured relentless attacks,” outlines the Healthcare Workers for Palestine media release announcing the 7 January protest, “attacks on hospitals and on schools, on churches and on mosques, on designated evacuation routes and on designated safety zones.”

The group further notes that more than 20,000 majority civilian Gazan Palestinians have been killed, while around 300 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank, despite it not being part of the conflict and being devoid of Hamas. While 340 healthcare workers have been murdered.

“The devastation of Gaza’s healthcare, water and sanitation infrastructure will lead to thousands more deaths from thirst, starvation and disease.” Right now, Gaza is bordering on a famine, as Israel cut off supply three months ago, into a region already suffering under a 17 year goods blockade.

Many would have considered this an unnecessary message three months ago
Many would have considered this an unnecessary message three months ago

A local member on the bench

Healthcare Workers for Palestine has been mobilising weekly across five continents globally, calling for an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire” and an end to the siege.

And this is significant because, as NSW Greens MLC Dr Amanda Cohn pointed out at an earlier Healthcare Workers for Palestine rally last month, that healthcare staff working in the local public system are told not to speak out.

“Medical supplies, fuel, and personnel are scarce due to blockade of aid and the killing and kidnapping of healthcare workers,” warned Abbas. “UN human rights experts have called it a ‘genocide in the making’,” and “Médecins Sans Frontières has repeatedly called for a ceasefire”.

However, the doctor then mentioned that the French NGO has also been targeted by the Israeli military.

South Africa will put its initial claim against Israel to the World Court on Thursday and Israel will argue its case on Friday. And if the panel of ICJ judges accept there is a case that could likely hold, then an immediate cease-and-desist order will be issued to Tel Aviv prior to proceedings.

There are fifteen judicial officers representing each of their own countries on the bench of the International Court of Justice, so at least eight need to consider the African nation’s case plausible to see it go ahead. And the 84 page document is dense with evidence.

Australian judge Hilary Charlesworth just happens to be an ICJ member at present and could hold the deciding vote in a question of securing mass life or death.

“Finally, we are grateful to have Tzedek Collective, an anticolonial and anti-Zionist Jewish group in Sydney, speak at our vigil,” Dr Abbas said in conclusion.

“Together we wish to support and elevate Palestinian voices given the racist silencing and dehumanisation of Palestinian people in mainstream media.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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