The Silence of the Damned

  • February 1, 2024

Our leading humanitarian and civic institutions, including major medical institutions, refuse to denounce Israel’s genocide in Gaza. This exposes their hypocrisy and complicity.



JAN 31, 2024



There is no effective health care system left in Gaza. Infants are dying. Children are having their limbs amputated without anesthesia. Thousands of cancer patients and those in need of dialysis lack treatment. The last cancer hospital in Gaza has ceased functioning. An estimated 50,000 pregnant women have no safe place to give birth. They undergo cesarean sections without anesthesia. Miscarriage rates are up 300 percent since the Israeli assault began. The wounded bleed to death. There is no sanitation or clean water. Hospitals have been bombed and shelled. Nasser Hospital, one of the last functioning hospitals in Gaza, is “near collapse.” Clinics, along with ambulances – 79 in Gaza and over 212 in the West Bank – have been destroyed. Some 400 doctors, nurses, medics and healthcare workers have been killed — more than the total of all healthcare workers killed in conflicts around the world combined since 2016. Over 100 more have been detained, interrogated, beaten and tortured, or disappeared by Israeli soldiers.


Israeli soldiers routinely enter hospitals to carry out forced evacuations – on Wednesday troops entered al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis and demanded doctors and displaced Palestinians leave – as well as round up detainees, including the wounded, sick and medical staff. On Tuesday, disguised as hospital workers and civilians, Israeli soldiers entered Jenin’s Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank and assassinated three Palestinians as they slept.


The cuts to funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) — collective punishment for the alleged involvement in the Oct. 7 attack of 12 of its 13,000 UNRWA workers  —  will accelerate the horror, turning the attacks, starvation, lack of health care and spread of infectious diseases in Gaza into a tidal wave of death.


The evidence-free charges, which include the accusation that 10 percent of all of UNRWA’s Gaza staff have ties to Islamist militant groups, appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The reporter, Carrie-Keller Lynn, served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Given the numerous lies Israel has employed to justify its genocide, including “beheaded babies” and “mass rape,” it is reasonable to assume this may be another fabrication.


The allegations, of which details remain scant, are apparently based on confessions by Palestinian detainees — most certainly after being beaten or tortured. These allegations were enough to see 17 countries including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, France, Australia and Japan cut or delay funding to the vital U.N. agency. UNRWA is all that stands between the Palestinians in Gaza and famine. A handful of countries, including Ireland, Norway and Turkey, maintain their funding.


Eight of the UNRWA employees accused of participating in the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, where 1,139 people were killed and 240 abducted, were fired. Two have been suspended. UNRWA has promised an investigation. They account for 0.04 percent of UNRWA’s staff.


Israel is seeking to destroy not only Gaza’s health care system and infrastructure, but UNRWA which provides food and aid to 2 million Palestinians. The object is to make Gaza uninhabitable and ethnically cleanse the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands are already starving. Over 70 percent of the housing has been destroyed. More than 26,700 people have been killed and over 65,600 have been injured. Thousands are missing. Some 90 percent of Gaza’s pre-war population has been displaced, with many living in the open. Palestinians have been reduced to eating grass and drinking contaminated water.


Noga Arbell, a former Israeli foreign ministry official, during a discussion in the Israeli parliament on Jan. 4, stated: “It will be impossible to win the war if we do not destroy UNRWA, and this destruction must begin immediately.”


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, saying UNWRA was “totally infiltrated by Hamas,” reiterated the call to shut UNRWA down.


If UNWRA is abolished it puts into question the Palestinian’s status as refugees, imperiling the “Right of Return,” the demand, long rejected by Israel, that Palestinians be allowed to go back to their homes in what is now Israel.


“It’s time for the international community and the UN itself to understand that UNRWA’s mission must be terminated,” Netanyahu told visiting UN delegates, according to a statement from his office. “It seeks to preserve the issue of Palestinian refugees. We must replace UNRWA with other UN agencies and other aid agencies, if we want to solve the Gaza problem as we plan to do.”


More than 152 of UNRWA’s employees in Gaza — including school principals, teachers, health workers, a gynecologist, engineers, support staff and a psychologist — have been killed since the Israeli attacks began. Over 141 UNRWA facilities have been bombed into rubble. The death toll is the largest loss of staff during a conflict in the U.N.’s history.


The destruction of healthcare facilities and targeting of doctors, nurses, medics and staff is especially repugnant. It means the most vulnerable, the sick, infants, the wounded and elderly, and those who care for them, are often condemned to death.


Palestinian doctors are pleading with doctors and medical organizations from around the world to decry the assault on the healthcare system and mobilize their institutions to protest.


“The world must condemn the acts against medical professionals happening in Gaza,” writes the director of Al-Shifa hospital, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, who was arrested along with other medical personnel by the Israelis in November 2023 while evacuating with a World Health Organization (WHO) convoy, and who remains in custody. “This Correspondence is a call for every human being, all medical communities, and all health-care professionals around the world to call for these anti-hospital activities inside and around the hospitals to stop, which is a civilian obligation according to international law, the UN, and WHO.”


But these institutions — with a few notable exceptions such as The American Public Health Association that has called for a ceasefire — have either remained silent or, as with Dr. Matthew K. Wynia, the director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado, attempted to justify Israeli war crimes. These doctors — who somehow find it acceptable that in Gaza a child is killed every 10 minutes on average — are accomplices to genocide and stand in violation of the Geneva Convention. They embrace death as a solution, not life.


Robert Jay Lifton in his book “The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide” writes that “genocidal projects require the active participation of educated professionals — physicians, scientists, engineers, military leaders, lawyers, clergy, university professors and other teachers — who combine to create not only the technology of genocide but much of its ideological rationale, moral climate, and organizational process.”


A group of 100 Israeli doctors in November 2023 defended the bombing of hospitals in Gaza, claiming they were used as Hamas command centers, a charge Israel has been unable to verify.


The deans of U.S. medical schools and leading medical organizations, especially the American Medical Association (AMA), have joined the ranks of universities, law schools, churches and the media to turn their backs on the Palestinians. The AMA shut down a debate on a ceasefire resolution among its members and has called for “medical neutrality,” although it abandoned “medical neutrality” to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


There is a cost to denouncing this genocide, a cost they do not intend to pay. They fear being attacked. They fear destroying their careers. They fear losing funding. They fear a loss of status. They fear persecution. They fear social isolation. This fear makes them complicit.


And what of those who do speak out? They are branded as antisemites and supporters of terrorism. George Washington University clinical psychology professor Lara Sheehi was pushed out of her job. The former head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, was denied a fellowship at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy because of his alleged “anti-Israel bias.” San Francisco professor Rabab Abdulhadi was sued for supporting Palestinian rights. Shahd Abusalama was suspended from Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K after a vicious smear campaign, although the institution later settled her discrimination claim against it. Professor Jasbir Puar at Rutgers University is an ongoing target for the Israel lobby and endures constant harassment. Medical students and faculty in Canada face suspension or expulsion if they publicly criticize Israel.


The danger is not only that the Israeli crimes are denounced. The danger, more importantly, is that the moral bankruptcy and cowardice of the institutions and their leaders are exposed.


This brings me to Dr. Rupa Marya, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), whose call to halt bombing hospitals and to examine the impact of Zionism as a racist ideology unleashed a torrent of vitriolic attacks against her, attacks tacitly endorsed by the medical school where she works.


She has been slandered as an antisemite and targeted by the Canary Mission, a Zionist organization that seeks to defame and destroy the careers of students and faculty that criticize Israel and defend Palestinian rights. She has had speaking engagements rescinded and received death threats and messages such as: “kill yourself you retarded grifting n*gger,” “Jew baiting c*nt,” and “White people are the greatest people on Earth. You know this.”


You can see her statement on the campaign against her here.


There is a striking contrast between the treatment of Dr. Marya and the physicians who cheer on the genocide. UCSF physician Matt Cooperberg, who is the Helen Diller Family Chair in Urology, ‘liked’ social media posts such as “REMOVE Palestinians FORM [sic] MAP” and a quote by former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir: “We are able to forgive the the [sic] arabs for killing our children. We are unable to forgive the arabs for forcing us to kill their children.”


“Cooperberg’s endowed chair comes from the Helen Diller Family Foundation, UCSF’s largest donor, which to date has gifted some $1.15 billion dollars to the health campus,” Dr. Marya writes. “In 2018, due to a mistake on a tax form, the Helen Diller Family Foundation was exposed as a funder of the Canary Mission. The Foundation attempted to erase its connection after this exposure.”


She continues:

As a faculty member at UCSF, disgraced dermatologist Howard Maibach exposed and injected over 2,600 imprisoned Black and brown people with chemicals in experiments that echoed the experiments put on trial at the Doctors’ Trial just a few years before he went to medical school in Pennsylvania. There he studied under Albert Kligman, who taught him how to exploit Black people for medical experimentation, documented extensively in the horror nonfiction book, Acres of Skin.  Maibach also advanced notions of racial differences in skin, furthering racist ideas from the pseudoscience of eugenics. Race is a social construct that enshrines supremacism. It is not a biological reality.


Most of Maibach’s experiments were conducted without informed consent, and while UCSF issued an apology, Maibach is still employed by the University of California. His family supports the Friends of the IDFand he is represented by Alan Dershowitz, who also argued for the bombing of hospitals in Gaza. Dershowitz attempted to prevent me from speaking at the AMA’s first National Health Equity Grand Rounds, where scholar Harriet Washington, who studies medical experimentation on Black people, highlighted Maibach’s racist practices. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, UCSF faculty, trainees and students of color brought Maibach’s story to lightand many have expressed their horror that they have to continue to sit in the same room as this man during Dermatology Grand Rounds. But the problem is not just one man. It is a system that allows someone with these values and actions to continue to be present in our learning and practicing community.


The dehumanization of Palestinians is lifted from the playbook of all settler colonial projects, including our own. This racism, where people of color are branded as “human animals,” is coded within the DNA of our institutions. It infects those chosen to lead these institutions. It lies at the core of our national identity. It is why the two ruling parties and the institutions that sustain them side with Israel. It feeds the perverted logic of funneling weapons and billions of dollars in support to sustain Israel’s occupation and genocide.


History will not judge us kindly. But it will revere those who, under siege, found the courage to say no.




Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author and journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times.


The Chris Hedges Report is a reader-supported publication.


Read the original article.


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