Ahead of Israel resuming its brutal bombing campaign on Gaza, dozens of healthcare workers rallied at Queen’s Park in Toronto last Thursday to show solidarity with Palestinian medical staff killed by Israel and called for an end to its attacks on hospitals. 

Some of the demonstrators wore hospital scrubs to commemorate their fallen colleagues in Gaza.

The Israeli military has killed more than 200 Palestinian medical workers since launching its massive attack on the besieged Gaza Strip on October 7. In total, Israel’s attacks have killed at least 15,000 Palestinians, including more than 6,000 children.

The attacks came after Hamas led a deadly surprise assault on Israel and took 240 people hostage. Israel’s attacks on Gaza resumed Friday after a temporary truce that was made to allow for hostage swaps expired.

“We are here to specifically speak against what is happening to hospitals, physicians, to health workers, who have been directly targeted, [and] which is completely unacceptable legally, morally and ethically,” a Toronto hospital surgeon whose name is being withheld over safety concerns told The Maple. “Israel is trying to destroy every chance of Palestinians to even look after their wounded and their dead.”

The surgeon said one does not have to be Palestinian to recognize that bombing a hospital is unacceptable.

The World Health Organization said last month that Israel’s attack on Gaza had inflicted “catastrophic” damage on the besieged region’s healthcare system. 

Last month, a group of 28 premature babies was evacuated from al-Shifa Hospital, the largest facility in the Gaza Strip, after the Israeli military stormed the hospital compound based on unproven claims that it was being used as a Hamas “command centre.” The 28 babies were taken to Egypt for urgent treatment, while at least five other newborns died before the evacuation due to power outages.

The Israeli military’s attack on the hospital drew fierce condemnation from the WHO, whose head called the attack “totally unacceptable.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the Israeli military to exercise “maximum restraint” ahead of the attack, but did not call for it to be stopped. Canada has also refused to join growing international calls for a permanent ceasefire.

Doctors have been working non-stop for weeks in Gaza. According to Doctors Without Borders, health workers have been unable to access medical supplies and patients are being operated on without anesthetic. Some doctors have had to perform surgeries under the light of cell phones in hospital corridors. 

In Gaza “children are coming in with burns and limbs missing,” said Sara, an Ontario nurse, in an interview with The Maple. “[Doctors] have no break, and their families are at risk as well. I cannot imagine this happening here.”

Sara joined the rally “to support fellow health workers as well as humanity, to call for a ceasefire and peace in Palestine.” 

A WHO press release published on November 20 stated that Israeli forces had conducted 335 attacks on medical facilities since 7 October, including 164 attacks in the Gaza Strip and 171 attacks in the occupied West Bank.

On December 3, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated in a flash report that hospitals continue to be under “heavy strikes” and that just six out of 24 facilities in Gaza City and North Gaza remain operational.

The surgeon said Israel is committing war crimes by killing civilians and bombing hospitals.

“There are neonates in ICUs that were left to die without electricity,” the surgeon explained.

Photo credit: Nur Dogan.

Dr. Tanya Haj Hassan, a pediatric intensive care doctor with Doctors Without Borders read messages sent by doctors in the Gaza Strip during the protest at Queen’s Park. She quoted one message which said: “We need you and your colleagues to reach out to our scene of the massacre to all the world. We trust you. Please be our voice outside.”

Another message, which came from one of Hassan’s former students, read: “The most difficult thing [is] when I am writing on the body of a little baby crying, ‘unknown number XX’; I am writing with a broken heart, shaking hands and eyes full of tears.”

Backlash For Speaking Up

Protesters said Canadian medical workers are under pressure if they speak up in solidarity with Palestine. 

At least four doctors in Ontario have been investigated by their employers over social media posts that expressed support for Palestinians in Gaza. One is currently being investigated over a pro-Israel post.

Jamie, a nurse at an Ontario hospital, told The Maple that “it is very hard to speak up.” 

Healthcare workers “have been forbidden to sign petitions; they are forbidden to speak about what is happening in Gaza and they are not allowed to express their concerns.” 

Jamie said healthcare workers feel that even mild statements of support for Palestinians are at risk of being falsely construed as antisemitic.

“They are trying to silence people who are just speaking the truth, and they’re just saying basic things: do not bomb hospitals, do not kill doctors, do not bomb ambulances, do not target wounded and do not target civilians,” Jamie said.

Sara said the Canadian government should “take a firm stance against this genocide, and the government should not be silent or complicit in this type of behaviour.”

Nur Dogan is a Turkish-Canadian freelance journalist and photojournalist who covers stories for New Canadian Media.