Speech given by a student doctor in the Pacific Northwest at the Health Care Workers Against Genocide vigil and speakout on Nov 3.
Throughout my life, I have chased after one question more than any other: “What is the responsibility of intellectuals?”
But what do I mean, “intellectuals?” I am referring to ordinary people of the labor class who self-educate to learn how the world and sociopolitical oppression operate, and who then go out to champion every global effort to revolutionize the world. I am referring to college-educated people with the know-how and access to political information, declassified government records, and the ability to speak out. And I am particularly referring to the professional classes, namely healthcare workers.
As HCWs, we undergo specialized training that teaches us how to teach ourselves; how to learn, how to specialize our thinking independently, and how to challenge orthodox thought and status quo. As physicians, we have the ability to conjure up differential diagnoses in a matter of seconds for the most complex and esoteric illnesses on Earth.
And yet, when it comes to Palestine: silence and self-exonerations. We suddenly plead “I just don’t know enough” or “I don’t know how to start learning about this conflict.” We plead ignorance.
We plead ignorance to portray ourselves as innocent. But as James Baldwin wrote, “It is their innocence which constitutes the crime.”
I have been in medicine for four years. Four years of hearing that self-exonerated silence about Palestine by those in power. Four years of silence by countless peers. Four years of Palestinians carrying this burden on our own. Four years of watching our homeland and our people suffer brutal repression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, while Palestinians in the diaspora (and our allies) are kept trapped in the repressive bubble of silence in U.S. medicine.
And yet that same medical field speaks volubly about humanism, equity, diversity, and justice. But if we in U.S. medicine were to draw a map around the boundaries of our conscience, the contours of that map would look exactly like a map of the United States.
We are not allowed to look or to speak about injustice beyond our borders, unless it’s an issue that has been pre-approved as “permissible topics” by those in power over us. Otherwise, they say to hell with the Wretched of The Earth, even when global suffering is caused by our own government. This is a dereliction of our duty as healthcare workers. The implicit message of our “esteemed” medical culture is clear: Do not look beyond our borders. Do not dare inventory or speak about the crimes and complicity of our own government, even if you violate your very Hippocratic oath.
The Hippocratic oath is subjugated beneath U.S. medicine’s prostration to U.S. militarism, imperialism, and colonialism. “Do not be political,” we’re told, even now, as nearly 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been murdered, thousands of children, hundreds of HCWs, all of the healthcare facilities flattened, entire bloodlines effaced from the earth, we are told NOT to be political; that our institution will not release a statement about this genocide; that our leaders will not remark on the murderous anti-Arab and anti-Sikh brutality and Islamophobia skyrocketing around this country.
But they don’t know that being “apolitical” is the most political thing you can do. Especially now, especially when the only people in the world who can force the U.S. government to change its support for genocide are those inside this empire.
And, as an aside for those who may not know: the U.S. still is not a full signatory to the Genocide Conventions of 1948. In 1986, we ratified the law, but with the reservation that the Genocide Conventions do not apply to the U.S.. At that point, the U.S. fully entitled itself with the right to conduct, aid, and abet genocide till this very day.
Our responsibility as ordinary people and as HCWs is to the survival and well-being of our species indiscriminately, and yet we are told to discriminate when it comes to genocide, especially about genocide in Palestine.
To those who place these muzzles on us, I say ENOUGH.
Enough hypocrisy. Enough with the colonial suppression on our fulfillment of the Hippocratic oath.
If our “diversity and inclusion” and practice of the Hippocratic oath are not internationalist in character, then we fail to solve the roots of injustice, here and abroad, because the colonization of Palestine is intimately tied into all the evils and injustices that cause suffering and illness and misery right here. And vice versa.
The Palestinian struggle includes every other struggle. It is a Black Liberation struggle, an LGBTQIA+ struggle, an undocumented struggle, a reproductive right struggle, anti-capitalist struggle, an indigenous rights struggle, a disability justice struggle, an environmental justice struggle, and a healthcare access struggle.
When you fight for Palestine, you fight for all of these.
But what do I mean by “fight for Palestine?” Is ceasefire enough? Absolutely not. Ceasefire is the bare minimum. Ceasefire stops the bombs briefly, but it does not ever mean a true “ceasefire.”
Israel has never adhered to a true ceasefire. Because the bombs may stop, but the bloodshed from the snipers, the extrajudicial murders by settlers and Israeli forces, the checkpoints, the militarized abduction and forced disappearances of our families and our children every damn day, the hunger, malnutrition, the demolitions of our homes and farms and orchards, and the genocidal blockade itself have always continued despite a ceasefire.
Fighting for Palestine means fighting colonization itself.
So how do we achieve that?
We know from the history of the U.S. government’s relentless support for Apartheid South Africa that U.S. support for crimes against humanity will not stop until the central institutions of this society force it to stop. Indeed, central institutions, namely medical institutions.
But the central institutions of this society will not change until we on the inside force them to change; until we replace the archaic leadership, gatekeepers, and apologists of colonialism — who kowtow to the U.S. orthodoxy and the Israeli regime — replace them with people of unbridled and internationalist conscience, who will not surrender their duty to the Hippocratic oath.
Our profession will not change until we abolish the respectability politics that are part and parcel to the culture of Western medicine.
We don’t need any more “polished professionals” chasing after nothing but their own career advancements. We need healers who are radically committed to healing, to health, to life, and to justice for all, even for Palestine, without these colonial limitations repressing our conscience, our voices, and our work.
And that is the catalytic shift that we are doing here today. The time for that shift is long overdue.
The silence ends now. The muzzle on our voices and our work as U.S. HCWs
or Palestine ends NOW.
To those in power, and to those who have silenced us and to their collaborators, let them hear our message clearly: the silence ends now!