Health care workers urge Neal to stand up for Gaza cease-fire

Neurologist Dr. Mohammad Ali Hazratji speaks as dozens of area health care workers rallied outside U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that U.S. Rep. Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Neurologist Dr. Mohammad Ali Hazratji speaks as dozens of area health care workers rallied outside U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that U.S. Rep. Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Neurologist Dr. Mohammad Ali Hazratji speaks as dozens of area health care workers rally outside U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that Congressman Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Neurologist Dr. Mohammad Ali Hazratji speaks as dozens of area health care workers rally outside U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that Congressman Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Ryan Pryor, a family nurse practitioner, speaks during a rally by area health care workers outside U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that Congressman Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Ryan Pryor, a family nurse practitioner, speaks during a rally by area health care workers outside U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that Congressman Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Area health care professionals rallied  outside the U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that Congressman Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Area health care professionals rallied outside the U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday to demand that Congressman Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 02-06-2024 5:34 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Dozens of area health care professionals rallied outside the federal courthouse Tuesday to demand that U.S. Rep. Richard Neal join their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Speakers representing the interfaith Healthcare Workers Coalition for Palestine-New England decried in particular the Israeli government’s bombing of hospitals and targeting of ambulances and health care workers in its four-month assault on the Palestinian territory.

“This is collective punishment of 2.3 million people using our tax dollars,” said Dr. Henry Rose, a retired kidney specialist from Dalton. “As a Jew, I say never again must mean never again for everyone.”

Neal, a Springfield Democrat who represents a wide swath of western Massachusetts, has not announced support for a cease-fire in Gaza and, according to organizer Molly Aronson of Easthampton, has not responded to several messages from the coalition.

After the rally, the group delivered a letter with 185 signatures to Neal’s office inside the courthouse building. Their demands included voting “no” on sending further military aid and weapons to Israel, a condemnation of those responsible for destroying Gaza’s health care system and a demand that medical and humanitarian aid be allowed into Gaza unimpeded.

The obstruction of humanitarian aid into Gaza means that many survivors of bombings are dying from starvation and disease, resulting in a rapidly deteriorating public health crisis, the coalition stated.

Labor and delivery nurse Gillian Cannon said she was heartbroken, as a Jewish mother, by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, but she could not be silent after witnessing the destruction of the entire Gaza health care system and seeing parents weeping over their children’s mangled bodies.

The Palestinian death toll after nearly four months of war has reached 27,478 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said, with some 17,000 children orphaned.

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Nearly every one of Gaza’s 36 hospitals has been bombed, and 118 nurses and midwives have been killed, Cannon said. There’s no safe shelter, no medicine and no clean water — “a massive humanitarian crisis,” she said.

Dr. Mohammad Ali Hazratji said the U.S. has offered only weak suggestions to the Israeli government, which ignores them without consequence.

“Congressman Neal must call on the administration to stop funding genocide,” he said.

He said he could not imagine anyone with any humanity turning a blind eye to the starvation and mass slaughter on the ground in Gaza.

“I can’t sleep for the scenes going through my mind,” he said.

Speakers said silence in the face of atrocities in Gaza amounts to complicity.

Neal could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. In a gathering with the press last Friday, the congressman said he supported President Joe Biden’s recent decision to send CIA Director William Burns to Israel to negotiate a potential deal between the two sides and that the release of all current Israeli hostages would need to happen in order for there to be a cease-fire.

“The president has made that clear. Secretary of State (Antony) Blinken has made that clear,” Neal said. “These negotiations will be watched over the next few days.”

Rallies over the war in Gaza have continued since hostilities began in October. Jewish Voice for Peace Western Mass held its 50th protest on Sunday in Northampton calling for a permanent Gaza cease-fire. Organizers said more than 300 people joined the peaceful demonstration at the Coolidge Bridge roundabout.

Neal’s congressional colleague from western Massachusetts, Rep. Jim McGovern, was one of the first members of Congress to call for a cease-fire in Gaza.

He signed a statement Oct. 17 along with three other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“Hamas can and must be stopped and the security of Israel must be guaranteed without the killing of thousands more Palestinian and Israeli civilians,” the statement said. “There is a different path. In this devastating time, the United States must lead the way forward.”