Skip to content
View Featured Image

Targeting Of Gaza’s Essential Workers And Infrastructure Is An Attack On All

Above photo: APA Images.

“In times of war, essential workers and public services are often all that stands between life and death.”

Across Gaza, public service workers face scenes of unimaginable devastation: 392 educational facilities destroyed; 132 water wells out of service; 24 hospitals knocked out with the remaining 11 only partially functional. The entire energy grid remains offline due to fuel import restrictions and the severing of external lines. Lack of electricity has forced desalination and water treatment plants to close with wastewater openly flowing in the streets. Lack of washing facilities is forcing many women to take pills to delay their menstruation.

Yet amid the rubble and the ruins, they persist. Water workers scramble to prevent dehydration after the destruction of pipes and aquifers. Doctors and nurses save lives while fearing for their own. Aid workers face the impossible task of feeding and housing a displaced population the size of Barcelona, within a ‘safe zone’ of a few square kilometres.

Gaza is now the most dangerous place on Earth to practice medicine with over 340 health professionals lost. More than 150 United Nations staff have been killed; the largest death toll in a conflict in the organisation’s 78-year history. As World Health Organization (WHO) director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus puts it: “What type of world do we live in when people cannot get food and water, when health workers are at risk of being bombed as they carry out their life saving work?”

Civilian casualties have been exacerbated by attacks on locations such as legal associations, universities, union headquarters, telecommunications, roads, high-rise residential blocks and even UN buildings. One Israeli intelligence source has been reported as saying the primary motivation for such attacks is to cause “damage to civil society.” Another says: “Nothing happens by accident. When a three-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target.”

It should not need to be repeated that attacks on civilians and non-military infrastructure are illegal under international human rights law. All governments and actors have an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, especially those providing lifesaving services in conflict zones. Making human rights law optional or context-dependent sends a dangerous message, endangers public service workers and undermines the rights of us all.

At our 31st World Congress, PSI condemned the 7 October terrorist attacks by Hamas, which killed over a thousand people, and called for the release of all hostages. We also noted that the reaction by Israel to collectively punish the entire population of Gaza for the actions of Hamas was not justifiable and called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the unlawful blockade.

“It’s dire and getting worse”

In January, the International Court of Justice determined it is plausible that genocide is occurring in Gaza and ordered Israel to take action. Yet senior Western officials lament that there have been little to no improvements, with one reported in The Guardian as saying, “it’s dire and getting worse.” The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food says “Israel is destroying civilian infrastructure, the food system, humanitarian workers, and allowing this degree of malnutrition and hunger.”

Dr Salama Abu Zaiter tells us: “Even before the war, our union was pushing for a much-needed hospital in Rafah. Now 1.5 million people are here”.

Testimony from our colleagues in Gaza reflects this assessment. In December PSI brought the voice of Ilias Al-Jalda, vice president of Gaza’s General Union of Health Workers to an Emergency Meeting of the WHO to ensure health workers were heard in this debate at the highest level. At the time he was unable to leave Gaza and was sheltering with his family and ageing mother in a church under bombardment. He described for global leaders how “the Gaza Strip has become a scene where human rights are routinely violated”.

Currently 90% of Gaza’s children and pregnant women face severe food and water shortages. Health professionals report children dying from dehydration, malnutrition and disease with hundreds of thousands more at risk. Dr Salama Abu Zaiter tells us: “Even before the war, our union was pushing for a much-needed hospital in Rafah. Now 1.5 million people are here, including many children with severe injuries and diseases which we are simply unable to treat.”

Yet 16 countries which provide funding for UNRWA, the major UN aid agency in Gaza, have suspended payments following Israeli claims that 12 individuals among the organisation’s 30,000 staff had links to the 7 October attack. These individuals were immediately dismissed and, while Israel is yet to provide evidence to the UN to support the claims, investigations are ongoing.

As many public service workers will tell you, it is a common tactic of the reactionary right to scandalise public services when individuals working within them commit, or are alleged to have committed, a crime. It is a tactic repeatedly used and manipulated for political purposes by those who want to undermine the provision of vital public services and cut funding. It is not acceptable in our own countries, and it is not acceptable in Gaza.

The Council of Global Unions has made clear: “The people of Gaza and our members depend on the lifesaving support UNRWA provides.” UNRWA coordinates 98.5% of all UN aid workers in Gaza. Shutting it down would be catastrophic for the five million refugees it helps support across Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and risks fueling a regional crisis. In Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions called on the Labour government to urgently reinstate funding to the UNRWA. The EU has already resumed UNRWA contributions, and other countries must follow suit.

In times of war, essential workers and public services are often all that stands between life and death. This conflict is demonstrating the humanitarian catastrophe caused by their destruction. Our global labour movement will never accept the killing of civilians, the bombing of vital infrastructure or the targeting of our comrades as valid methods of warfare – not in Gaza, nor anywhere else.

Unions can:

  1. Advocate for an end to restrictions on aid supplies to restore essential services and to meet the needs of the civilians in Gaza to restore human dignity and rights:
  2. Call for unimpeded import of medicines, vaccines, and vital medical equipment to address the healthcare crisis.
  3. Demand access to care in medical centers outside of Gaza and free movement for patients including through the opening of the Rafah crossing,
  4. Pressure your government to fund provision of public services to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, including funding for UNRWA.
  5. Call for your government to support an immediate ceasefire.
Sign Up To Our Daily Digest

Independent media outlets are being suppressed and dropped by corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our daily email digest before it’s too late so you don’t miss the latest movement news.