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As Gaza’s Health System Collapses, JVP Doctor Occupies WA Senator’s Office Calling for Ceasefire Now!

Web ExclusiveNovember 06, 2023
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Watch Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Alice Rothchild, a retired OB-GYN who has long worked in Palestine and was last in Gaza in August. On Friday, she participated in a nonviolent protest to shut down the Federal Building in Seattle, where Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington has an office, urging the senator to call for an immediate ceasefire. She is on the steering committee of the Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council and providing frequent updates on the deteriorating medical situation on the ground in Gaza.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

We continue our conversation, Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Alice Rothchild, retired OB-GYN who has long worked in Palestine, was in Gaza in August. On Friday, Dr. Rothchild participated in a nonviolent protest to shut down the Federal Building in Seattle, where Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington has an office, urging the senator to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Senator Murray, who represents Washington state and is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released the following statement last week. She said, quote, “Like so many, I’ve watched as the Israel-Hamas war has intensified. I continue to believe that Hamas must be held accountable for the horrific terrorist attack it launched against Israel. And I fear for the innocent families caught in the crossfire — from the Israeli civilians brutally attacked and taken hostage, to Palestinian civilians who are in the midst of an escalating and increasingly dire humanitarian crisis, millions of lives are at stake. I believe hostages taken by Hamas must absolutely be released and returned to their families safely. And I believe that a humanitarian pause in the fighting is necessary to save civilian lives and allow critical humanitarian aid to reach innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” Again, that’s the statement of Washington Senator Patty Murray.

For more, we’re joined by Dr. Alice Rothchild, who’s on the steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council, providing frequent updates on the deteriorating medical situation on the ground in Gaza. She’s also the mentor liaison for We Are Not Numbers and on the board of the Gaza Mental Health Foundation.

Thank you so much for staying with us, Dr. Rothchild. I wanted to first get your comment on what Senator Murray has just said. She’s for a humanitarian pause but has stopped short of supporting a ceasefire. Your response?

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: So, what I would say is that a war crime does not justify a genocide. And I have a great deal of difficulty with the concept of a pause. In my mind, it seems that you stop the bombing, and you feed people and you give them some water, and then you continue bombing them. And that doesn’t seem like a reasonable foreign policy to me.

It’s very clear that the Israelis are not attacking Hamas; they are attacking Gaza. And I think Senator Murray understands the level of humanitarian catastrophe. And it is her ultimate responsibility to call for a ceasefire now and humanitarian aid, and then, ultimately, addressing the root causes.

I mean, Hamas is an organization that has an ideology of resistance. And the ideology of resistance was born out of Palestinian suffering, siege, occupation and all of the assaults that Israel has committed. And if you want to get rid of that ideology, then you have to address the root causes that create the need for resistance, because Palestinians will always resist if they’re being so brutally oppressed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what would a ceasefire look like? What would be the chronology?

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: What would the chronology of a ceasefire be? You know, I’m a physician and not a politician. But it seems that if the Israelis stopped the bombing, and there were negotiations with the Hamas leaders to stop their attacks, that it would be possible to then negotiate a prisoner exchange between the hostages and all the political prisoners that are in Israeli jails, and that this kind of backroom negotiations have happened before — Israel has released prisoners before — and that that would be the first step towards moving forward. And then, at the same time, there has to be a massive humanitarian relief.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, there are those negotiations going on behind the scenes in Qatar. I was watching the Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson, though, this weekend saying, to say the least, the attacks right now on Gaza are jeopardizing these negotiations to release the hostages.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Right. So I think that as long as these brutal attacks are ongoing, that it’s much less likely that the hostages are going to survive and be released. And in fact, I think 50 have been killed by Israeli bombs at this point. So it seems that a ceasefire is in everybody’s interest.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your response to Gilad Erdan, who is the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. He was on State of the Union on CNN. He said there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

GILAD ERDAN: There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In coordination with the U.S. and the U.N., we allowed a number of trucks entering Gaza now with food and medicines to reach almost 100 trucks every day. So we don’t see the need for humanitarian pauses right now, because it will only enable Hamas to rearm and regroup.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response Dr. Alice Rothchild?

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Well, I was somewhere between appalled and astonished. I think that Israeli spokespeople and politicians and representatives have a long history of creating an alternative reality. There is an obvious humanitarian crisis. Before the war, there was an average of 500 trucks per day coming in with supplies. And for him to think that a hundred trucks coming in is going to relieve the level of starvation and thirst and illness that is going on is just ludicrous. So, this is just — we could just call it an outright lie.

AMY GOODMAN: Apparently, about 90, a hundred Israeli doctors have signed a letter calling for the bombing of hospitals in Gaza. The letter states hospitals are a legitimate target due to suspected terrorist activity. Dr. Rothchild?

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Yes, I read that letter yesterday, and I was appalled. A statement like that is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. It’s a violation of an oath that the doctors in Israel take that’s only — it’s done in Israel. It’s outrageous, you know, and it’s a reflection of the tone in some of Israeli society. I mean, there are a whole group of rabbis who said that it’s OK to bomb Shifa Hospital, which is the most important hospital in Gaza. So, this sentiment is appalling, it’s immoral, and it’s illegal.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re an OB-GYN. You’re an obstetrician-gynecologist. You were last in Gaza in August. That’s before Hamas’s surprise attack on October 7th. Can you describe the situation there? This was right around the time that the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was saying that it’s peaceful in the Middle East, they can move on to other issues.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: I saw that quote, and I also was fairly appalled.

So, the thing to remember is that Gaza is a very young population. And the women in Gaza tend to have babies young and large families. So there are enormous numbers of pregnant women that are currently not receiving any prenatal care. It’s estimated that there are over 5,000 women that will deliver each month. Also, where are they delivering? If the hospitals are closed, if the hospitals have no supplies, these women are delivering at home. They’re delivering in the rubble. They’re delivering in horrendous conditions. They’re not being monitored. So they’re going to be sick, and some of them are going to die. Their children are not going to get adequate care once they’re born. So, this is, from a prenatal, pregnancy, infant point of view, just catastrophic. There are also something like 150 neonates in intensive care units. And when the electricity is gone, it’s estimated that they will die within five minutes. So, this war, which is a huge attack on civilians, is particularly heavy for young people, for pregnant people and for children.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip from a Channel 4 News documentary of a woman describing giving birth after the start of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza after October 7th.

PALESTINIAN MOTHER: [translated] It was difficult to get to the hospital so late at night. The doctors were wonderful. But there were so many injured and displaced people there. … Seeing my daughter is a beautiful feeling, but we cry for the life we are living. I hope things go back to normal and we go back home.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Rothchild, talk more about your work with women in Gaza and what they are facing.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Well, the kind of work that I do is solidarity with clinicians and documenting the realities on the ground. In the past in Gaza, I have worked with women’s empowerment groups, because there are several women’s groups that focus on women’s issues, women’s needs in marriage, women’s needs for education. And so I’ve done teaching around their bodies and sexuality and birth control and those kinds of things.

My last visit was with a group called Grassroots International, and we were focused on human rights issues. So, I was involved in interviewing folks from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. And we visited with women who were seeking divorce, and they were getting support from the human rights organizations. I also worked with We Are Not Numbers, which is a mentoring program for young Gazan youth. And we help young Gazans who want to write their story and tell the realities of their life, and I match them with mentors in English-speaking countries. So I have a very close view of the realities of their life.

And it was very interesting, because when I spent the day with the young people, many of them in their twenties who have families, they wanted to show me what was beautiful in Gaza. And they took me all around Gaza City and showed me the historic areas and the mosques and the churches and the beaches and the restaurants and things that no one thinks about when they think about Gaza. I fear that all of the places that they showed me are now bombed and in rubble. I know that some of them are. And, you know, this is just appalling and affects their young lives. It affects their families’ lives. It affects the future of their children. So, that’s the view that I was having in August.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your changing views? Talk about your family, how you grew up and how you came to be a doctor working in Gaza.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: So, I grew up in a fairly traditional, progressive Jewish family and voted for Democratic Party members, you know, supported the civil rights movement. But I also went to Hebrew school three days a week, had a bat mitzvah, and was taught that Israel was this fabulous place, and we should support it and love it. I loved Israeli dancing. I went there when I was 14, and it was just this monumental trip. So I come from a very usual place for an American Jew.

I then — you know, I’m a child of the '60s, so I got more political around Vietnam War issues. And when I went to medical school, I was really focused on women's reproductive issues and on healthcare reform and getting single payer and establishing health as a right in this country.

And as the years went by, it became apparent to me as a Jewish person that I had to, like, look again at my understanding of Israel. And so, I was originally from Boston. A group of us from Workers Circle and a number of other Jewish groups started a small group, and we started interviewing Palestinians in the Boston area. So, we immediately had a fairly rapid education that concerned all the things that we were not taught. And I began to read the new Israeli historians and Palestinian historians, and beginning to understand settler colonialism, racism, Islamophobia and all the forces that politically shape this issue. And as this became more powerful in my life, you know, I felt that here is a country that thinks it is speaking in my name, and I’m paying taxes to a country that’s supporting occupation, siege and things that I cannot abide. And so, the group started doing programs for the community, and we were very quickly blacklisted.

And then a number of us realized we were physicians, and so in 2003 we started organizing annual health and human rights delegations to the region and partnering with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Palestine Medical Relief Society, Gaza Mental Health — Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and more and more groups like that.

And so, that really made me committed, because you can’t unsee what you see. And when you see the impact of villages that can’t get healthcare, of the brutality that occurs at checkpoints, of women delivering checkpoints, you know, all these kinds of horrific things, it’s a very radicalizing experience. And it really became a commitment for me. And then I wrote a couple of books documenting these issues. And then I started writing children’s books. And so, I made a documentary film. I really immersed myself in this. And I feel very committed, because I feel very responsible. And I think a lot of Jews who come from a traditional place are in a similar place to me.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip from your 2013 documentary that you refer to. This is a documentary that won the Audience Award at the Boston Palestine Film Festival. It’s called Voices Across the Divide.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: As I interviewed Palestinians of different ages, I realized that the Nakba is not really over. I interviewed a woman named Hannah. She was born in Jaffa. She left as a young woman. She lost everything. And her family fled to Ramallah. And then I interviewed her daughter, Terry, who grew up in a fairly middle-class life in Ramallah, until she experienced the 1967 War.

TERRY AHWAL: The story of the Nakba was a story for my sisters and I 'til 1967. It was my grandfather's story. It was my mother’s story. It was a trauma. But, you know, when you’re a child, you don’t understand it. So, in 1967, it stopped being a story. Israel struck Egypt. And it was war, became a war.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: So, let’s place you. '67, you're in Ramallah.

TERRY AHWAL: I’m in Ramallah.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: You are how old?

TERRY AHWAL: Ten years old.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: You’re going to Catholic school.

TERRY AHWAL: Catholic school.

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Life is good.

TERRY AHWAL: Life is wonderful. There is nothing wrong. And all of a sudden, I would call it the transformation from childhood to hell.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Voices Across the Divide, 2013 documentary film produced by our guest, Dr. Alice Rothchild. And the importance of making this film, and your message in it?

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Well, I was motivated to make this film because when I was doing book touring, if there were Palestinians in the audience, they would stand up and want to tell me their story. And I felt that there were these huge numbers of stories that people brought to the United States that really needed to be heard. And I was struggling with how can I reach out to both the Jewish community and also to communities that just don’t know.

And so, I put together a film basically tracing the history of the region, but doing it through the personal stories of Palestinians. And so, that was a way to invite people into the conversation and then to explore the more deeper issues and the consequences of the Nakba and the Naksa in '67 and dispossession and, you know, boycott and the kinds of things that people talk about, but to put it all in one film that is done uplifting voices of Palestinians, because, you know, Palestinians are not voiceless, they're just not being heard. And I felt that with my privilege as a Jewish person, that it was my responsibility to uplift these voices. And it seemed that creating this documentary could help, you know, bring the conversation forward.

And it’s interesting to me that — you know, it was an independent film. You know, I’m a physician; I’m not a professional filmmaker. But every year around the Nakba, you know, all sorts of groups start showing it again, and I get asked to talk about it. And so, it keeps living on, because it’s a history that’s very important to understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dr. Rothchild, do you feel like American opinion, and particularly the polls that show young American Jews are changing their views, especially in the face of what’s happening today?

DR. ALICE ROTHCHILD: Yes, what we see in the American Jewish community is that when you get to generations that are younger than me, for instance, there is increasing response to the problems with Israeli policy, and there’s increasing sympathy for Palestinians. And, you know, the American Jewish community traditionally has been fairly progressive-minded. We supported the labor movement. We supported the women’s movement. We were part of the civil rights movement. That is part of our history. And so it’s very difficult for young people to be proud of that, and then to say, “Well, but there’s an exception when it comes to Palestine, or there’s an exception when we look at the right-wing, fascistic kind of Israeli leaders that have developed over the years.” And young people are not standing for it. And so, I think this is a very positive development, and it will make it more and more difficult for the mainstream Jewish community to stand with Israel, right or wrong, because, clearly, they’re on the wrong side of history at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Dr. Alice Rothchild, a retired OB-GYN who has long worked in Gaza, last in Gaza in August. On Friday, she participated in a nonviolent protest to shut down the Federal Building in Seattle, where Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington has an office, urging the senator call for an immediate ceasefire. Dr. Rothchild is on the steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council, providing frequent updates on the deteriorating medical situation on the ground in Gaza. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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