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January 3, 2022 4:53 pm
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Health Professionals Respond to ‘One-Sided’ Discussion of Gaza War in British Medical Journal

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Israeli soldiers walk around tanks in a field near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, on its Israeli side May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

More than 40 faculty members pushed back last week against an article published by the British Medical Association Journal (BMJ) on the May conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, and the “one-sided, anti-Israel narrative” responses it inspired.

The BMJ article, “Gaza: Israeli airstrikes kill doctors and damage healthcare facilities,” focused largely on the destruction of infrastructure in Hamas-controlled enclave, with only a brief mention of Israelis killed by rockets fired from Gaza. It also cast the conflict as a result of “unrest in the West Bank, as pro-settler organizations have been attempting to force Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.”

A “rapid response” submitted following the article’s publication, which was signed by 11 academics, claimed that Israel “launched airstrikes on Gaza’s infrastructure” while Hamas fired indiscriminate rockets “in return” — although Israel struck terrorist positions only after more than 150 rockets were fired by Palestinian groups at Israeli civilians. The response also called for an end to “war, violence against health care, settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation,” saying, “Nowhere is this agenda more urgent today than in a setting such as the occupied Palestinian territory.”

In a Dec. 27 letter initiated by members of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), the faculty group, which includes professors of public health, medicine, and related fields, said conversations about the Gaza conflict in the medical community must “establish the basic facts.”

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“In this conflict, 4,300 rockets and missiles were launched from Gaza towards Israel (each one a war crime), killing, wounding, and traumatizing millions, including the Palestinians in Gaza in areas where many projectiles fell short,” they said. “According to most estimates, over 30,000 such weapons — an enormous and destructive arsenal by any measure — were stockpiled in Gaza prior to the war.”

The faculty argued that the May conflict did not occur in a vacuum, but was a continuation of other exchanges that followed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the territory’s subsequent seizure by Hamas. They also pointed to Hamas’ diversion of international aid materials to build a complex military network underneath civilian infrastructure, including schools and mosques.

“These basic facts highlight the importance of constructive dialogue,” the signatories wrote. “In contrast, false and biased narratives fuel the conflict and violate the basic Hippocratic requirement to do no harm.”

Dr. Linda Landesman, an initial signatory of the AEN letter and a visiting public health lecturer at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said last week that by “rejecting our response and only publishing one-side of these events, the BMJ missed an important opportunity to moderate the gap in views and advance this discussion.”

Speaking to The Algemeiner Monday, Landesman added that the group of signatories felt the views published by the journal “did not showcase how public health can serve as a bridge for peace.”

“It’s very unfortunate that academic departments have chosen to take one side. The academy is supposed to be a place for constructive dialogue,” she said.

“By only taking one side, which I think is a biased position, the academy appears less pure and less elite,” Landesman commented. “The purpose of higher education is to help people engage in deep thinking, and you can’t do that by presenting only one view.”

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