When Dina Bseiso saw the photos of the premature Palestinian babies fighting for their lives at Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza, she couldn’t help but think of her infant self.
And her twin.
“Every child is deserving of a warm and loving family,” Bseiso told the crowd of health professionals and community members, who had gathered outside of San Francisco General Hospital’s Building 90 on World Children’s Day, Nov. 20.
“I was born. But my twin was stillborn,” Bseiso said. “When I think about high-risk pregnancies, I think of the 50,000 pregnant Palestinian women who are expected to give birth this month in Gaza, where healthcare infrastructure has been disempowered … I think of the burden not only carried by women, but of men too. When I see them wailing mourning the loss of their children, I hear my own fathers’ wails. I see them in all of their humanity and love, in a world that has worked to strip them of their basic humanity to paint them as unfeeling dangerous monsters.”
Bseiso was one of the many locals who showed up to rally at SF General, which was just one of the multiple gatherings that took place Bay Area wide on a day where healthcare workers and concerned folks stood side by side calling not only for a ceasefire and the end of Israel’s bombing of hospitals in Gaza, but for an end to Israeli occupation.
“I currently have family in Gaza. Young, old, mothers, grandfathers,” Bseiso said. “We are now six weeks into this genocide, and families are separated, wounded, suffering. For many families, generations have been wiped off the civil registry due to these killings. For Palestinians, our ongoing genocide connects us no matter where we are in the world.”
As of press time, more than 15,093 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, the day Hamas militants attacked and killed 1,200 Israelis — a number that Israel revised after initially saying that 1,400 people were killed. And while a 4-day ceasefire was agreed to by Israel and Hamas on Nov. 22, it came after six weeks of genocide unfolding before the eyes of the word. And while mainstream media coverage has been dominated by narratives of Israeli hostages, the same coverage hasn’t been given to Palestinians prisoners, some of whom have been held hostage in Israeli prisons for years and without due process.
Continuous Israeli airstrikes and aggression have killed more than 200 medical professionals and more than 6,150 children, and additionally injured 36,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
“I strongly reject the women and children rhetoric used when mourning innocent life, when men are deserving too,” Bseiso said. Among the striking statistics and the horrific imagery that journalists have been sharing from the ground in Gaza, 825 Palestinian families have been killed off from the civil registry.
“I don’t know if you can comprehend what this means, what a family is in Palestine,” Nida Bajwa, a third-year UCSF resident in family medicine, told the crowd on Nov. 20. “How many generations it includes, how many people have to be taken to completely erase them.”
The rally at SF General was the second that took place in November, the first being on Nov. 3, when healthcare workers staged a Walk-Out in support for a ceasefire in Gaza and the end to medical blockade.
Nora Franco, a Clinical Research Librarian at SF General and organizer with DPH Must Divest — a coalition of community members, healthcare workers and social workers who strive for people to have care over criminalization — helped organize both of the rallies.
“The Bay Area has a long history of activism for healthcare rights,” Franco said. “The building that we are outside of right now, Ward 86 is inside there.”
As Franco correctly points out, SF General set the San Francisco model of AIDS Care in the early 80s and did so by treating people with medical care, but also focusing on their humanity in the face of stigma and discrimination. The situation, Franco says, parallels what we are seeing in Palestine, where healthcare workers and patients are directly targeted and disregarded as humans.
Many at the rallies have been calling for both SF General Hospital and UC leadership to take a stand against genocide, but even that has been contentious. The University of California quickly condemned the Oct. 7 attack, releasing a statement two days later — by Regents Chair Richard Leib and UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D. — that read, “What should have been a quiet weekend of rest turned into days of unspeakable terror and shock. The violence is sickening and incomprehensible, and as of this moment we still do not know the fate of the hostages. This act deserves and requires our collective condemnation.”
The statement however had no specific mention violence against Palestine or Palestinians, current or historical. On Oct. 16, the UC Ethnic Studies Faculty Council replied to the UC with their own letter, which read: “Context is crucial. On the receiving end of Zionist militarism longer than the Israeli state’s existence, the Palestinian population in the occupied territories has been subjected to a daily stranglehold by air, land and sea. Theirs is an everyday experience of terror.”
At the rally on Nov. 20, organizers shared an open letter to UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, Vice-Chancellor Won Ha, and UC President Drake. The open letter was in response to campus-wide emails sent by Chancellor Hawgood on Nov. 10 and Vice-Chancellor Ha on Nov. 13.
In Hawgood’s email, he warned that “free speech is not absolute, and violations of policy or law will have consequences,” and wrote that “Our educators must continue to provide a supportive and welcoming environment for all students and avoid using classroom time for improper political indoctrination.” In Ha’s email, he touched on people expressing their views on social media, writing “Please review these resources to guide your own social media activities, including those you conduct in any official UCSF capacity and those you participate in via your personal accounts.”
In response to those emails, the open letter stated, “We must enable academic spaces to support political discourse and activism without it being inaccurately labeled as hate speech. We can critique the apartheid policies and violence of the Israeli state without that being antisemitism. We must be able to support the essential human rights of the Palestinian people without it being immediately interpreted as supportive of Hamas.”
Dr. Jess Ghannam, a professor of Psychiatry at UCSF, spoke at the rally on Nov. 3.
“Here we have a genocide, and people are afraid to speak. So that tells you that the power structures in our society, in our culture here in the United States, are such that some people are allowed to speak up against injustice, and others are not,” Ghannam said. “No other time in modern history have doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics been targeted, like what is happening in Palestine and Gaza right now…which is a war crime under the Geneva convention. The fact that the Israeli military has decided to target hospitals and healthcare workers really means that we as healthcare workers have to rise up and take a stand to say, ‘No.’ Because being a doctor and doing healthcare, it’s a very sacred kind of work that we do. And even in war and horrific situations, we’ve always been protected.”
For Ghannam, who is Palestinian and a father of twins, the violence is too much for him to stay silent.
“I would say this is one of the most intense times in my entire life. I feel everytime I see a Palestinian child who has been pulled from the rubble dead, I feel like that’s my baby,” Ghannam said. “I’m carrying the grief of thousands of Palestinans who are being murdered, injured and who are being dispossessed in Gaza right now. But that’s already on top of 75 years that Palestine has been occupied and has been under the boot of Israeli apartheid and occupation. And generations of my family and my community have died from that occupation. And that weight of that grief is inside me too. So for me it’s like a double grief, which is pretty intense. But then I come to events like this. And I see that people are waking up. And I see that people are starting to see the intersectionality between what is happening in Palestine with the Latino community with what’s happening on the border. Because it’s the same struggle. Or what’s happening in the Black community or the API community, and it’s the same struggle for dignity, for freedom, for self determination against racism, and your ability to live with dignity on the land. That’s what Palestinians want. That’s what Latinos want, and that’s what everybody wants. So the fact that those connections are being made for the first time, does give me some hope.”
One of those people who has also made those connections was Elizabeth Milos Rieloff, Medical Interpreter at the UCSF Medical Center and active union member in UPTE-CWA 9119 Local 7, who spoke at the rally on Nov. 3.
“I am speaking here not as a representative of my union, but as a person and also as a Chilean,” Milos Rieloff told El Tecolote. “Very few people know this, but Israel supported the Pinochet government with weapons, just as Israel supported the Ríos Montt government with weapons during the massacre of the indigenous Mayans in the 80s, it also supported the apartheid government of South Africa.”
Franco also shared her thoughts on the importance of non-Palestinian folks showing solidarity.
“It goes back to settler colonialism,” Franco said, a queer Tejana who’s ancestral roots trace back to the 1800s in what is now known as Texas. “We come from that struggle. Our ancestors suffered that oppression … and I feel like we have a duty and a responsibility to show up in solidarity with all countries and communities that are experiencing the same violence.”