A crowd gathered with banners proclaiming support for the Palestinian people.
Photo Credit
Courtesy of UCSF Healthcare Workers for Palestine

UCSF Healthcare Workers Stage Walkout for Gaza

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

More than 400 UCSF-affiliated students, faculty, community members and healthcare workers — many wearing scrubs and white coats — held a midday walkout on Parnassus campus on Oct. 27 to oppose the Israeli bombing of Palestinians in Gaza. 

Eight speakers addressed the rally, including faculty members, community organizers and students. They highlighted the healthcare crisis in Gaza resulting from Israel’s bombing of hospitals, refugee camps, UN schools, and other civilian infrastructure in response to an Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel led by Hamas, which governs Gaza.

“We are witnessing a genocide, right before our eyes, with the full backing and blessing of the US government and its Western allies and their advanced weapons. It is a humanitarian and healthcare catastrophe,” said Dr. Jess Ghannam, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences in the School of Medicine, who has been working in Gaza for 25 years. 

“There is not a single fully functioning hospital or clinic in Gaza. Only a handful of hospitals are even able to treat patients. Emergency surgeries are being done by candlelight and without anesthesia.”

UCSF Healthcare Workers for Palestine, organizers of the walkout, are calling on UCSF leadership to recognize the need for an immediate ceasefire and an end to American funding for Israel’s war on Gaza. They also want to raise awareness for the need for massive humanitarian aid to reach the people of Gaza.

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood released a statement on Oct. 16 supporting all UCSF communities affected by the war in the Mideast, including those “in anguish over the Hamas terrorist attacks” and those “suffering over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

The rally speakers addressed the long history of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, the displacement of Palestinians, and how those in Gaza are now at grave risk of genocide, according to UN experts.

The bombing of Gaza is the latest escalation in a decades-long conflict in the region. The most recent violence began after Hamas, which governs the Gaza strip, launched an assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7, resulting in 1,400 people killed and at least 240 people held hostage. 

Israel launched a slew of counter airstrikes and two days later, announced a “total blockage of the Gaza Strip” effectively putting 2.3 million Palestinians under siege and cut off from necessities such as food, water, fuel, and electricity. 

To date, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes that have targeted tactical locations but also hospitals, United Nation schools, residential buildings, and other civilian infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, Hamas has not backed down from its own military strikes, and both the US and Israel hold the position that Israel has the right to protect itself

UN experts publicly decried Israel’s targeted bombings of civilians as “a violation of international humanitarian and criminal law”. 

In an address to the UN Security General on Oct. 24, United Nations Chief Antonio Gutteres condemned the “horrifying and unprecedented 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel,” but added that “nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians – or the launching of rockets against civilian targets.”

“The nightmare in Gaza is more than a humanitarian crisis,” Gutteres said speaking to journalists at UN Headquarters in New York on November 6. “It is a crisis of humanity.” 

He said that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children.” 

“Hundreds of girls and boys are reportedly being killed or injured every day.”

Hiba Elkhatib, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley School of Public Health, echoed this sentiment. 

“It's important for us to think about why over half of Gaza’s population is children,” Elkhatib said. “Not only have Palestinian children been stripped of their ability to experience childhood — where over 93% of them suffer from trauma and over 48% of them have experienced firsthand violence — but they are also subjected to a system that actively limits their prospects for adulthood.

“They are born into oppression and die because of the injustice they face.”

A Family and Community Medicine resident speaking at the rally reported that 3,000 of those who have died in Gaza so far are children and 50,000 people in Gaza are pregnant, with an estimated 160 of them giving birth a day. 

“Many of these people will do so outside of a hospital, without medication or monitoring, and their babies’ first cry will be overshadowed by a violent cacophony of bombs.”

As of Oct. 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) also documented more than 136 attacks on health care services in the occupied Palestinian territory, including a deadly strike at Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. At least 88 workers at the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have been killed in airstrikes

Dr. Leigh Kimberg, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, spoke out about abysmal working conditions of fellow healthcare professionals. 

“When we see videos of our healthcare worker colleagues in Gaza performing major surgical operations using the light of an iPhone, a small bottle of vinegar as the only antiseptic, without any anesthesia or pain medication,” Kimberg said, “when we see phosphorus bombs that reach over 2300 degrees Fahrenheit upon impact, dropped directly on children and adults, when we see videos of children who are too young to know how to write letters, holding out their arms for their older siblings to write their names in permanent markers on their arms so that when they die and are buried under rubble… 

“People will know their names. That they existed on this planet — all too briefly. We know this is wrong.

“We can have a moral compass to decry genocide and apartheid, even when we are not well educated about the specific history or politics,” Kimberg said.

One student organizer said the rally was encouraging. 

“Seeing our community of healthcare workers stand in support and solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank was an intensely emotional experience. The healthcare sector, historically known for its neutrality, is increasingly recognizing the importance of advocating for, and supporting oppressed and marginalized groups. To feel shoulders rubbing against mine in a crowd of hundreds chanting for an end to the atrocities we are seeing play out in Palestine was not only moving and powerful but also motivating to keep us pushing for change. The words escape me.” 

Another medical student challenged others to take on the cause.

"Free Palestine is not a thought experiment or a catchy hashtag. It is a desperate cry for justice — for those who have been deprived of it for too long and for the recognition of humanity when the world refuses to see it. What will your role be in healing those who have been suffering?”