The debilitation of Palestinian healthcare workers

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide with rising numbers of cases in several countries and the mutation of the virus into deadlier, more contagious strains. Palestine has been especially vulnerable to this rise due to lagging vaccination rates and a weakened healthcare infrastructure. Of 5 million Palestinians, only about 560,000 have been vaccinated, and only 415,000 have received two doses to achieve complete vaccination (1). The pandemic has placed an enormous strain on several facets of society, specifically the healthcare sector, and Palestinian medics have buckled under the mental load accompanying viral infection, insufficient treatment capabilities, and armed attacks against healthcare workers on behalf of the Israeli occupation.

While Palestinian healthcare workers have played a role of caregivers and rescuers amidst fiery aggression and bleak circumstances for decades, the constant nature of infrastructure destruction, equipment blockades, limited medical training, and targeted attacks have made healthcare practice in the West Bank and Gaza unbearable. These barriers to proper treatment have both lowered the quality of treatment and created a need for health professionals to work longer hours to make up for the lesser resources, further deteriorating their mental capacity needed to complete their duties (2).

The United Nations has proclaimed the occupied Palestinian territories “one of the most dangerous places in the world for healthcare workers” (2). This statement is no surprise given the frequent news reports of physicians, nurses, and medics being shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, regardless of their clear designations and uniforms as health workers. A recent report by Al Jazeera covering medics saving injured protesters revealed Israeli soldiers frequently shoot at Palestinian ambulances and physically attacking medics by hitting them with their rifles (3). In 2018, an Israeli soldier shot and killed Razan Al-Najjar, a young volunteer medic who had been wearing a white lab coat and helping protesters who had been shot in Gaza (4). While healthcare workers have no agenda besides preventing harm and saving lives, they have frequently become a target of the mercilessness of Israel’s oppression.

There is no strategy to attacks on healthcare workers, restricting medical supplies and vaccines, and continuing aggression amidst a global pandemic besides to impinge upon Palestinian human rights. Israel’s tactics have been diabolical in this regard, and their attacks on Palestinian healthcare are especially abusive tactics deserving of condemnation. Maintaining sanity and staying afloat is already a difficult enough task for Palestinians in the occupied territories; to be physically demeaned with limited means for recovery is simply cruel.