On October 7, Hamas, a terrorist group, launched an unprecedented assault against Israeli civilians. Thousands have been confirmed killed, while hundreds have been taken hostage. Israel has retaliated by pounding Gaza with rockets, killing thousands more Palestinian civilians. This is the most severe escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades. The death toll continues to rise, with civilians dying every day and Gaza under siege.
In 2023, multiple crises have already deluged American medicine. Climate change has led to major natural disasters in the United States, and once again, mass shootings and gun violence have led to increased mental trauma for providers. Burnout is the rule, rather than the exception. We almost simultaneously see war atrocities, health inequities, and offensive statements within a minute of scrolling down a news website or social media newsfeed.
So why should we also care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Aren’t we tired enough?
The conflict is already sensitive, as it spans religious, cultural, and national divisions. Despite the diversity of individuals in Israel and Palestine, very few things can divide the world like this conflict. There have been multiple attempts to assuage both sides, but the best that could be accomplished was a tenuous peace, which has fallen apart in the last two weeks.
When I visited Israel and Palestine this summer, I noticed that Palestinians and Israelis, regardless of religion, were treated differently. Israelis had more freedom of movement and enjoyed fewer security checks. Palestinians had access to fewer resources, had constant security checks and questioning, and seemed to live in a state of constant conflict. In a Palestinian refugee camp I visited, children and other civilians were under watch and in danger of being injured when protests occurred. Health inequities are ever-present, with hospitals, especially in Gaza, under-resourced and underserved.
I give this context as this past weekend, the Israeli army prepared to invade the Gaza Strip. This will displace 1 million Palestinians and put them directly in harm’s way of two warring sides. Gazan hospitals are currently under siege, and the whole strip is without power and adequate supplies in a situation that is becoming worse by the day. The Egyptian border crossing is shut down, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis. Civilian hostages from Israel are still within the Gaza Strip, with no word on their health or status since their capture. An attack of disputed etiology has taken place in a Gazan hospital, killing over 500 civilians. (Editor’s update: Here’s the New York Times analysis.) There are thousands more lives at stake, both Israeli and Palestinian.
It is easy to jump into our medical work and forget about anything from the outside world. In theory, it may be why many of us join medicine as an escape from daily life. However, the real world is out there and requires us to speak out against injustices and provide our expertise on how to improve these inequities. Medical professionals have a significant voice in advocating for their patients and populations, both locally and abroad. Our testimony is often used to justify environmental protections, health care guarantees, and public health measures.
We all have family, friends, and acquaintances who have connections to Israel and Palestine. They might have had families displaced during the creation of the state of Israel. They might be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, all of whom regard the land as one of the holiest in the world. They might be our patients who have these same roots in this conflict as billions do. Our role as medical providers is to speak against attacks on these individuals. As a pediatrics resident, the conflict hits even harder as I see innocent children hurt and killed.
In this conflict, no matter where you might stand, you do have a duty to stand for vulnerable populations. Ask your congressperson to stop the siege on Gaza and ask for the safe return of hostages to Israel. Donate to charities assisting in medical care, emphasizing the need to protect civilians. Speak against Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that are rearing their heads in the conflict’s wake, notably taking the life of a 6-year-old Muslim child in Illinois. We should look for a solution that guarantees rights for all individuals in the conflict and rejects the status quo of different rights for different individuals.
Adithya Sivakumar is a pediatrics resident.