Edmonton health-care workers rally to honour 249 Palestinian colleagues killed in Gaza

Around 70 health-care workers and other community members gathered at the Canadian Druze Centre in northwest Edmonton to commemorate and honour their Palestinian colleagues in Gaza who have been killed by Israel since Oct. 7. 

There have been 249 Palestinian health-care workers killed during Israel’s assault on Gaza, as well as 50 Palestinian journalists and 111 United Nations Relief and Works Agency employees.

Dalal Awwa, a Palestinian-Canadian doctor, addresses the attendees.

Attendees of the Nov. 30 event, hosted by the local chapter of the Canada-wide Health Workers Alliance for Palestine, were each given a lanyard with the face, name and specialization of a fallen Palestinian health-care worker, as well as a candle to hold throughout the event. 

This author wore the name of Omar Khorsheed, an optometrist, around his neck. 

“There's a lot of dehumanization of Palestinians and it was important for us today to use name tags with names and pictures and specialties to bring it close to home to remind health-care workers that any of us could have been working and had experienced this if we were in Gaza,” explained Dr. Dalal Awwad, a Palestinian-Canadian family physician originally from the occupied West Bank who was one of the event’s four speakers.

Four NDP MLAs were in attendance—Brooks Arcand-Paul, David Eggen, Janis Irwin and David Shepherd. 

Nora Yeghi, a nurse of Lebanese and Syrian extraction who spoke at the event, told The Progress Report that advocacy is a key component of a health-care worker’s role.

“That means raising our voice when others can't raise their voice,” Yeghi said, adding that this is particularly urgent when health-care facilities have been targeted by Israeli forces—a blatant violation of international humanitarian law.

A Dec. 1 investigation from the Guardian found damage to 10 hospitals in northern Gaza between Oct. 7 and Nov. 10, excluding the explosion at the Al Alhi Bapitist Hospital that killed 471 people, which Israeli forces claim was the result of a misfired rocket from Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad. Of these, just two hospitals are functioning.

“We feel the need to speak up and really put a spotlight on the fact that not only is that impacting the people who are dying because of this, but also people who are still getting sick from everyday things in Gaza are going to be affected by not having a hospital or doctors or nurses to go to,” Yeghi added.

In her remarks during the event, Yeghi tied the decimation of Gaza’s health-care system to medical racism against Indigenous people in Canada. 

“Though the situation in Palestine is distinct in terms of the baggage of violence and the decimation of a health system, we still see firsthand as health-care workers the impact of unchecked colonization, forced displacement and violence,” she said.

The obligation of physicians to their patients is perhaps best exemplified by the remarks of Dr. Hammam Alloh, a nephrologist at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, when he was asked by a journalist why he hadn’t left northern Gaza after Israeli forces urged its entire population to move south.

“You think I went to medical school and for my postgraduate degrees for a total of 14 years so I think only about my life and not my patients?” he said on Oct. 31. Eleven days later, an Israeli airstrike on his family’s home killed him and several of his relatives.

His words were highlighted at the event by Adam, a first-year medical student, who didn’t provide his surname when he spoke—a testament to a wave of suppression against students and health-care workers who support the Palestinian cause.

In his remarks, Adam noted that the overwhelming of Gaza’s health-care system has resulted in “cases of brutal triage,” in which physicians have to prioritize the needs of some patients over others.

“One of the most appalling examples of medical supply shortages is the exhaustion of anesthesia in the hospitals. Health-care staff are forced to put up patients in unimaginable pain to try to save their lives. At times the pain is so great that patients will die of shock,” he noted.

This has led to children being forced to undergo amputations and pregnant people having C-sections without anything to numb their pain, said Adam.

“We're witnessing a public health crisis unfold before our eyes with clean water becoming more scarce and people being forced into close quarters,” he added.

“Health Organizations are seeing a rapid spread of infectious disease, including chicken pox, diarrhea and a rising threat of cholera. We're deeply concerned about the risk of severe psychological trauma related to witnessing this devastating aggression, especially among children.”

The event concluded with a reading of the full list of the 249 health-care workers killed in Gaza.

To put things into perspective, the number of health-care workers lost [in Gaza] is similar to all the general surgeons, emergency physicians and cardiologists in Edmonton combined,” said Yeghi. 

“Today, you want to remember that if we were healthcare workers in Gaza, this entire room would be wiped out.”