The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity stands with Palestine: A call to action

| Mondoweiss |

On behalf of 400 medical, public health, and community leaders, the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity is calling on Scientific American to immediately re-publish an article on Palestine solidarity that it removed, and to end its censorship of Palestinian voices.


[Mondoweiss’s Note: Last month The Scientific American removed an op-ed calling for solidarity with Palestinians from its website after the magazine was targeted by pro-Israel groups. The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity have released a public statement on behalf of 400 medical, public health, and community leaders to Scientific American, in solidarity with the authors of that piece. Mondoweiss occasionally publishes press releases and statements from organizations in an effort to draw attention to overlooked issues.]

Dear Scientific American Editorial Board and colleagues,

We write as the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity, an organization of over 400 medical and public health and community leaders who work to address health equity issues in response to the COVID pandemic in the state of Massachusetts and beyond. The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity fully supports the text of the June 2 statement: As Health Care Workers, We Stand in Solidarity with Palestine and urges the editorial board at Scientific American to immediately put the piece back in print and end censorship of Palestinian voices, which only serves ongoing Israeli occupation and settler colonialism in Palestine.

On June 2, Scientific American published a statement entitled As Health Care Workers, We Stand in Solidarity with Palestine. The article called on “U.S. health care systems and academic institutions, as well as our colleagues in health care, to unequivocally condemn Israel’s long-standing oppression of the Palestinian people and the ongoing decimation of their health care system.” Included in the call was the demand: “In our hospitals, clinics, offices, and other health care institutions: That we adhere to the standards set forth by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and examine the ways in which our institutions and facilities (itemized by the United Nations) can uphold the demands… That we further call on the U.S. medical and science communities to leverage their positions of power and privilege across local, state and federal arenas to pressure elected representatives and senators to end financial and diplomatic support for the Israeli government and to condemn Israel’s disproportionate atrocities and deprivation of Palestinians’ human and legal right to life, freedom and justice.”

Shortly after the article was published, Scientific American removed the article due to pressure by supporters of Israel. This type of political censorship in academia has been well documented in BMJ Opinion Blog [1] which describes the history of Lancet’s censorship of an article on Israel’s oppression of Palestinian people.

As healthcare workers with the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity, we have stood against racial injustice in the health care system and specifically fought against manifestations of this injustice during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize that structural racism kills and that the first step in fighting racial injustice in our health care system is acknowledging and identifying the racist structures and systems of oppression that exist.

Colonial violence has impacted the lives of Palestinian people daily since the 1930’s. This includes, but is not limited to, a 73-year history of land and water theft, home-demolitions, Apartheid laws, a racist identity card system, a system of checkpoints to control Palestinian movement, mass incarceration and torture including the incarceration and torture of Palestinian children, and collective punishment through aerial bombardment.

Settler colonialism, as Patrick Wolfe has famously theorized, is based on a “logic of elimination” of the indigenous people [2]. From its origins, Israeli settler colonialism was predicated on a white supremacist logic which imagined Jews as a modern people, while Palestinians (Philistines) were pre-modern and thus in need of elimination or Zionism’s civilizing force [3, 4]. In the present, as an ethno-nationalist state, Israel enforces a system of racial classification that ensures that the lives and comforts of Israeli Jewish citizens are valued at the expense of the very lives of Palestinians [4,5]. The 2018 Nation State Law [6] enshrines “Jewish settlement as a national value” to expand the government’s occupation of Palestinian territories and “aims to place Jewish collective rights above individual rights and freedoms.”

Historically, the medical community as a whole on this continent has been complicit in the oppression of Palestinian people and the impact that settler colonialism and structural racism as practiced by Israel has had on the health and well-being of Palestinian people. Israeli apartheid policies create a dramatic inequity in life and health with Palestinians having 10-year lesser life expectancy than Israelis and an infant mortality 6 times higher [7]. The Palestinian health system is completely crippled by the Israeli occupation, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention which stipulates that as an occupying power, Israel is required “to maintain health services in the occupied territory [8]. The Palestinian healthcare system is in a state of chronic crisis due to the continuous shortages of funds, medication, medical equipment and a lack in specialist doctors and medical staff. Israel delays the transfer of customs funds to the Palestinian Authority as a punitive measure, which limits the MOPH from planning annual budgets and paying medical workers regularly [7, 9].

As highlighted in the June 2nd letter, medical and vaccine apartheid witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly egregious. To hail Israel as a model of success for mass vaccination of the Israeli population, while barely 5 percent of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories are vaccinated, is a blatant erasure of Palestinian life and Israel’s responsibility as an occupying power to ensure the “adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventative measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” to “the fullest extent of the means available to it” [10].

Many patients needing specialty care must be transferred to costly private Palestinian health facilities in East Jerusalem or in Israel, Egypt and Jordan, which amounts to one-third of the ministry’s annual budget [7,9]. Meanwhile Israel denies Palestinian medical professionals permits to leave the country to pursue advanced training in medical specialties, particularly in Gaza where residents essentially live in an open-air prison, being subject to the Israeli siege since 2007. This plus the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and targeting of medical infrastructure, such as the recent bombing of the road to Al Shifa hospital and Gaza’s only COVID clinic during the recent attacks as well as Israel’s killing of prominent specialists like Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of internal medicine who ran the COVID ward at al-Shifa hospital, further undermines access to care.

Palestinians who need to leave their homes for medical treatment, in some cases only a basic appointment, must frequently pass through military check points, even when traveling Palestinian territory. Patients and their companions from Gaza must apply for Israeli permits to exit Gaza and access hospitals in the West bank, east Jerusalem or Israel, but in recent years a little less than half of all permits have been denied [7,9]. Patients in need of healthcare are repeatedly denied the right to access medical services, again in direct violation of their human rights and of the occupying power’s responsibility to guarantee them access to healthcare.

The Israeli Ministry of Health also controls the import of pharmaceuticals to the West Bank and Gaza Strip [7,9]. It only allows the import of medicines registered in Israel and blocks Palestinian imports from neighboring markets which could provide medications at lower costs. The combined customs system with Israel results in Palestinians being required to purchase medications at “first world” prices. Importing raw materials needed for the local manufacture of medicine is almost impossible due to Israel’s policies, which restrict the transfer of goods and raw materials to the Palestinian territories. As a result all of occupied Palestine faces a lack of access to medicines, particularly in Gaza where in the last few years more than 50% of essential medicines have remained out of stock due to the Israeli siege. Furthermore, Israel’s 14-year siege of Gaza has choked the economy, resulting in critical shortages of food, fuel, and essential medicines and making over 90% of Gaza’s water unfit for human consumption; the World Food Bank recently reported 86% of children under 5 in Gaza lack a minimally accepted diet [11].

The Israeli system of apartheid and settler colonialism is unethical and a threat to public health. The only path to justice in historic Palestine is through an end to settler colonialism, apartheid, and occupation in all of historic Palestine and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194 [12]. Rejecting colonialism and apartheid is an essential part of dismantling systemic racism everywhere. Our government sends $3.8 billion dollars in military funding to Israel per year. To remain silent represents tacit and significant financial support of Israel’s apartheid and settler colonialism, and therefore we add our voices to the call for an end to this complicity.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity stands with the Palestinian people. We support the call for Health Care Workers to Stand in Solidarity with Palestine. We call on our colleagues and their respective institutions to do the following:

– End any and all partnerships with Israeli institutions, as described in the academic boycott guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) [13]

– End financial relationships with and divest from Israeli institutions and businesses as well as international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid

– Leverage our positions of power and privilege across local, state and federal arenas to pressure elected representatives and senators to end financial and diplomatic support for the Israeli government and unequivocally condemn Israel’s crimes against Palestine and the Palestinian people.

As stated in the call to action: “we recognize that if we remain silent on these issues, it is due to our own positions of privilege and relative safety. We must honor the fundamental responsibilities conferred through our oath and our core bioethical principles by individually and collectively demanding accountability and an end to all forms of oppression from the Israeli state, as well as from our own countries and institutions, upon all Palestinian people.”

[1] Muhareb R, Wispelwey B, Gilbert M. Political censorship in academic journals sets a dangerous new precedent. BMJ Opinion. June 2, 2021.

[2]. Wolfe, P. (2006) “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”, Journal of Genocide Research 8(4): 387–409

[3]. Said, E. (1979). Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims. Social Text, (1), 7-58.

[4]. Goldberg, D.T. (2009) The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism. Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell

[5]. Lentin, R. Palestine, Palestinians and Israel’s State Criminality (Spring 2016). State Crime Journal , Vol. 5, No. 1, , pp. 32-50

[6]. Lintl, P. Wolfrum, S. Israel’s Nation-State Law. (2018) SWP Comment. No 21. Published online at https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/israels-nation-state-law/

[7] Frank S. Rosenthal (2021) A comparison of health indicators and social determinants of health between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Global Public Health, 16:3, 431-447, DOI: 10.1080/17441692.2020.1808037

[8] International Committee of the Red Cross. 2014. Geneva Conventions. [online] Available at:

[9] Physicians for Human Rights Israel. Divide and Conquer. 2015. https://www.phr.org.il/en/divide-conquer-new-phri-report

[10] Doctors Without Borders. Palestinians left out of Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination success story . February 22, 2021. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/story/palestinians-left-out-israels-covid-19-vaccination-success-story

[11] World Food Program. Barrier Analysis and In-depth Qualitative Interviews Report West Bank and Gaza Strip. April 2020. [online] Available at:https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000118212/download/#: :text=86%25%20of%20children%20under%20five,settler%20violence%20and%20forced%20evacuation.

[12] UN General Assembly, 194 (III). Palestine – Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator, 11 December 1948, A/RES/194, available at:[https://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe2e5672.html] accessed 28 June 2021 [accessed 28 June 2021]

[13] Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel. July 16, 2014.