Statement of the Executive Board of the SMA on Effects of Israel’s Bombing on Palestinian Health and Health Infrastructures

Dear SMA members,

The Executive Board of the Society for Medical Anthropology voted to adopt the statement that appears below. We believe that, as medical anthropologists, it is important for us to address how the recently-concluded Israeli bombing campaign targeted medical facilities and health professionals, thereby intensifying increasing the already deleterious health impacts of occupation, blockade, land expropriation, past bombing campaigns, shortages of food and medicine, and massive inequities in the availability of health care and specifically COVID-19 vaccines in Israel and the Occupied Territories. We likewise wished to express our support for urgent actions needed to rebuild health infrastructures and services.

We would like to make the process clear. A draft statement was written by two Executive Board members. It was then discussed by other EB members and others who participate in (but do not vote on) SMA leadership issues; the statement was modified as a result. The EB vote was unanimous. The statement thus expresses the views of the voting members of the Executive Board, but does not claim to represent those of all SMA members or of the American Anthropological Association as a whole.

Statement of the Executive Board of the Society for Medical Anthropology on Effects of Israel’s Bombing on Palestinian Health and Health Infrastructures

The Executive Board of the Society for Medical Anthropology unequivocally condemns the Israeli military’s targeting of Palestinian civilians, medical facilities, and critical infrastructure supporting health care in the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza. The recent Israeli attack on Gaza left behind a death toll around 250, including nearly 70 children, and 1,900 injured. The United Nations has reported that over 72,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced in the Gaza strip. Israeli airstrikes have targeted six hospitals and nine primary health care centers, including an MSF clinic, a desalination plant that provided clean water to 250,000 residents, and Gaza’s only covid-19 testing laboratory. Two prominent Palestinian doctors, Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of internal medicine and the covid-19 response team at al-Shifa hospital, and neurologist Mooein Ahmad al-Aloul were killed in the Israeli bombardment.

We see these abhorrent actions as an extension of Israel’s long-standing settler colonial military occupation of Palestine, which left the Gaza Strip as one of the poorest and most densely populated areas in the world. Most of the Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. Since 2007, Gaza has been under Israeli military blockade, which places severe economic and movement restrictions, allowing only the entry of basic humanitarian products and rendering this part of the occupied Palestinian territory dependent on international aid. Gaza has the world’s highest unemployment rate, and more than half of its population lives below the poverty line. In the past, the Israeli state used metrics of caloric intake to restrict the quantity of food allowed into Gaza. Although this policy is no longer in official use, most Gaza residents still cannot meet their daily caloric requirements due to the economic effects of the blockade. Over the last thirteen years, four major Israeli military incursions have devastated Gaza’s critical infrastructure, including medical facilities. The vast majority of the population has no access to clean water, reliable electricity or a proper sewage system. The negative impacts of war, poverty, and environmental degradation on Gaza residents’, especially children’s, physical and mental health have been widely documented. The current ceasefire, as important as it is, does not address these historically accumulated health consequences of colonial dispossession, war, and occupation.

As medical anthropologists, we are especially concerned that these conditions are now also intensifying the impacts of a deadly pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting once again the fatal effects of racialized health inequities, the unconscionable global disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines become starkly visible in Israel/Palestine.  While Israel has been lauded for vaccinating the majority of its citizens, including those living in unlawful settlements in the West Bank, the Israeli government provides almost no vaccines for the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, contravening international law that prescribes that the occupying power must ensure public health standards for the population living under occupation. Given colonialism, occupation, and blockade induced overcrowding, forced displacement, and infrastructural problems in Palestine, the acute shortage of vaccines will have long-term effects on the viability of Palestinian health services.

The SMA Executive Board expresses its solidarity with health workers in the Occupied Territories and Palestinians’ struggle for justice, including in health. In keeping with international laws protecting and promoting human rights to health, the following actions are urgently needed:

  • The lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip
  • An international investigation of attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure, and medical facilities as potential war crimes
  • International support for the urgent restoration of damaged critical healthcare infrastructure and for vaccination efforts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Executive Board of the Society for Medical Anthropology