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Philly Health Workers Say: ‘Bombing Hospitals Is A War Crime!’

Above photo: Philadelphia, May 19, 2024. HCW4Palestine instagram.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Philly Health Care Workers for Palestine (HCWL4Pal Philly), Families for Ceasefire, Drexel University Medical Students for Palestine, and the Philly Palestine Coalition gathered at Seger Park, just blocks away from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on May 19. The purpose of the rally and march was to emphasize their unwavering support for health care workers in Gaza.

Preparation for the event included art builds and securing speakers who could talk about the ongoing genocide and how it is has decimated the health care system in Gaza, targeting doctors, nurses and aid workers with unspeakable atrocities. Banners exclaimed: “Bombing hospitals is a war crime!” and “Remember hospitals in Gaza targeted by the IOF!” Banners listed the names of hospitals that were destroyed or rendered almost inoperable because of Israeli airstrikes, raids, and sniper attacks.

Also displayed and carried were a quilt comprised of facemasks with names of martyred health care workers written on each mask and a streamer of 500 patient identification bands, each one showing the name of a martyred Palestinian. Also shown were framed pictures of Palestinian health care workers who were killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces while they tended  to some of the thousands of victims of this genocide. These pictures were distributed to marchers to carry. These protesters wore “bloodied” white lab coats or patient hospital gowns.

Speakers at the park explained that the purpose of the rally was to honor health care worker martyrs, describe the untenable conditions of the hospitals in Gaza, and show how major health care networks in Philadelphia are complicit in the carnage by their silence and even more explicitly by their research funding and initiatives with direct ties to the Israeli apartheid state.

The rally then took to the street as marchers blocked traffic along a route through the historic area of downtown Philadelphia. The route was planned to call attention to two major health care systems in Philly: Penn Medicine of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Chants from the marchers were loud and consistent. People enjoying brunch at outside tables at the many eateries along the way were mostly supportive except for a group of Zionists who shouted obscenities as marchers passed by without engaging.

Marchers stopped first outside of a Penn Medicine hospital building. As marchers carrying banners gathered at the intersection, a Philly nursing student and member of HCW4Pal Philly chapter gave a fiery speech. She inspired the crowd by invoking the revolutionary spirit of Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Lorraine Hansbury; coincidentally, all three had birthdays on the day of the march.

Jefferson’s biotech for Israeli military

The end point of the march was on Jefferson Health Sciences campus, home of the Jefferson Israel Center. According to their website, the Center was launched in 2018 when “Jefferson and the Israeli Innovation Authority (IIA) jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding, with the IIA committing $1 million to Israeli biotech start-ups for the primary purpose of expanding product development and validation within the Jefferson Health ecosystem.” (tinyurl.com/Jeff-Israel-Ctr-website)

The IIA supplies the Israeli military with biofuel for their military vehicles. The organization is part of the Medical Technology Energy Consortium (MTEC) established by the U.S. Military and Department of Defense.

Neither Penn Medicine or Jefferson Hospital has condemned the genocide nor the targeting of their colleagues in Gaza, in direct violation of the medical and nursing codes of ethics.

Speakers at Jefferson included a doctor, recently returned from aid work in Gaza, who as a direct witness, described horrible conditions. A social worker who was fired from Jefferson for her pro-Palestine views also spoke.

19.7-minute die-in on the asphalt

The event ended with a moving tribute to our martyred Gaza colleagues. Initially, it was to take place in a park on the Jefferson campus but graduation festivities were in full swing. So the marchers in hospital gowns and lab coats performed a die-in on the asphalt in the middle of the street outside the health science center, holding the photos of their martyred comrades.

Before taking their places on the asphalt, several marchers read testimonies from Gazan health care workers describing dire conditions in their hospitals due to the IOF genocide. Organizers handed out leaflets that listed each hospital with facts about its current state. Most have been bombed to oblivion. Some have been raided and taken over by the IOF. A few are still trying to function with inhumane supply shortages and under threats of Israeli bombardment.

Finally, all the die-in participants remained lying down for 19.7 minutes, representing the April 2024 statistic released by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency]  of 73 incidents per day – one every 19.7 minutes –when a hospital is targeted or a health care worker in Gaza is murdered, or kidnapped and tortured.

A vocal and violin performance of “Sawfa Nabqa Huna” added to the solemnity of the moment. The title of the song translates to “We will stay here.” This is the same powerful protest song sung by the steadfast doctors at Al-Awda Hospital in October 2023; the video went viral.

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