Health Authority & Nonprofit Silence on Palestine Encourages BC’s Complicity in Genocide

Today, Nov. 16, marks the 40th straight day of genocidal violence inflicted on Palestinians by the Israeli state.

As healthcare workers, we are calling on the BC government to urgently demand a ceasefire – and for organizations within Vancouver’s healthcare and social service sector to break their palpable silence.

“For Muslims, the soul lives on for 40 days as we grieve,” expresses Nesa Hamidi Tousi, a nurse practitioner in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “But how do you mourn when the deaths don’t stop? How can you feel the presence of your loved one when all you hear are bombshells and sirens and bulldozers? Imagine holding that grief while living in an open air prison. Imagine holding that pain alongside the fear of your own mortality. Imagine the collective grief that hangs in the air. How can we sit idly by when these atrocities have been happening for the last 75 years without signs of it ending? How can we be silent during this time? How can you be silent? Why aren’t you screaming like the rest of us?”

The siege on Palestine has meant constant destruction of civilian and public infrastructure including private residences, hospitals, schools, and refugee camps, including those in Jabalya and al-Maghazi. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, over 11,000 civilians have been killed. At least 35 journalists, and more than 160 healthcare workers have been murdered, while over 12,000 targets have been bombed. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes and been forcibly displaced to the south of Gaza.

For Muslims, the soul lives on for 40 days as we grieve. But how do you mourn when the deaths don’t stop? How can you feel the presence of your loved one when all you hear are bombshells and sirens and bulldozers?

In more recent weeks, there has been an escalating international outcry and mass mobilization against the genocidal actions of the Israeli state. In Vancouver and beyond, this response has been led by the Palestinian diaspora and Indigenous Peoples; supported primarily by Jewish-led groups and other racialized people who have survived and resisted colonial and imperial violence, along with other supporters around the world. 

The demand for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation of Palestine is clear, including from over 50 municipal-level officials in BC. 

Despite mounting pressure, NDP Premier David Eby refuses to add BC’s voice to the chorus. Vancouver’s health authorities and nonprofit industry have abetted this inaction, either through maintaining a disturbing silence in the face of violations of international law, a humanitarian crisis, and a genocide – or by willfully promoting it. In doing so, these institutions renew their commitment to settler colonialism both here and abroad. 

The silence of healthcare-sector organizations on the ethnic cleansing in Palestine is reflective of the current public health approaches to addressing issues of inequity in BC,” according to Alya Govorchin, a graduate student in Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “Public health organizations have long remained silent about colonial violence as it occurs, but then receive funding down the line to measure…its subsequent negative health outcomes. If BC healthcare institutions believed in health equity, stopping the violence against Palestinians now would be the sector’s priority.

Health and social service institutions in BC market themselves as champions of equity and care. Yet at home, they routinely contribute to facilitating violent displacements across the province. This violence is disproportionately aimed at Indigenous Peoples, and those otherwise most marginalized by the current organization of power in BC. 

Health authorities have been at the forefront of seeking public funding related to the drug toxicity crisis response, only to then allocate it mostly toward public relations and ineffective over-medicalized and treatment-based responses to a crisis of mass death. The crisis is killing First Nations people at six times the rate of others. Now, these same institutions neglect to acknowledge a genocide against Palestinians, despite its impact on public health, including premature death among masses of people in our global community.

The local threads of settler colonial power have been laid bare, one result of the movement against genocide led by the Palestinian diaspora,” adds Tyson Singh Kelsall ਤੈਸੋਨਂ ਸਿੰਘ, an outreach-based social worker. “From drug toxicity to ethnic cleansing, from Hastings St. to the Gaza Strip, BC’s political class, led by Saint Eby, will share a place in history with those who inked the partitions of Panjab and Palestine, and those who beat the drum of imperialism to the tune of the drug war, while promoting broken windows theory and incarcerating people in North America. A morally shameful place in history! Demand a ceasefire now, end the occupation.

The silence is particularly shocking given the context of Israel’s repeated violence toward healthcare workers, aid workers, clinics, and hospitals in Gaza, including the relentless attacks on Al-Shifa hospital

The escalating crisis in Gaza demands our immediate action and attention. With 1.5 million Gazans internally displaced in a mass disabling event, all without essential access to healthcare services, the silence of the Canadian healthcare sector is both alarming and appalling. Half of Gaza’s population have been forced to flee under threat of imminent death, and even hospitals, traditionally places of refuge, are under siege. It is crucial to recognize Canada’s historic and current role in the ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, and genocide of the Palestinian people. As such, the Canadian healthcare sector has a responsibility to call for an immediate ceasefire,” states healthcare worker Cass Sutherland, who asks, “How can leaders within the Canadian healthcare system, one built on the ethos of ‘do no harm’, remain silent in the face of genocide, public health disaster, and state-orchestrated violence?”

When it matters most, BC’s healthcare and social service institutions are upholding neoliberal power, rather than choosing to act on their purported values of equity, and demonstrate solidarity with people across Palestine. 

What is the use of including cultural safety, equity, anti-racism and planetary health in our strategic visions, if we won’t even denounce an active genocide? Violence, trauma, and pain do not adhere to the physical borders we have made, nor does death. Our healthcare leadership integrates these terms into their mandates, but they strip them of any remaining value in their practices. I join my colleagues in the international community of frontline healthcare workers in outrage and in calling for an end to the violence, genocide and the illegal occupation of Palestine,” says Lena McFarlane, a registered nurse working in East Vancouver. 

Hundreds of us have signed letters as care workers, social workers and registered nurses. Health and justice are global matters that transcend settler colonial borders and geographies. The BC NDP, regional health authorities, and major nonprofits in the City of Vancouver all have significant power to speak out against genocide to influence its end. The leadership of these institutions are complicit by nature of their decision not to.

Frontline workers condemn the absence of Vancouver’s health authorities and largest nonprofits.

We demand a ceasefire and freedom for Palestinians. 

Photo by Dustin Godfrey