End Medical Apartheid: From the U.S. to Palestine

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Like all people, Palestinian people have the right to live in health and safety. But while the Israeli government rolled out the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Israeli citizens, Israel denied it to Palestinian people living under its military occupation.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Indigenous, Black, and brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, while receiving vaccinations at a much lower rate than white Americans. This pattern is part of longstanding healthcare inequalities and structural barriers to care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed systemic racism in healthcare, or medical apartheid. Vaccine inequity in Palestine was just one more lens on Israel’s systemic privileging of Israeli settlers over the native Palestinian population, a system internationally known as apartheid. From January to May of 2021, we collaborated with partner organizations to show progressive organizations and the “progressive” members of Congress what the violence of apartheid looks like, and to pressure them to echo support for ending the U.S. military funding that enables it.

Mass action forces Congress to speak out against medical apartheid

Just three weeks into our Invest in Justice coalition campaign to End Medical Apartheid, a groundswell from the grassroots—including actions from over 12,000 supporters like you—forced Congress to act for justice: Dear Colleague policy letters by 17 members of the House (led by Rep. Pocan & Rep. Carson), 12 members of the House (led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib & Rep. Mark Pocan, and 5 members of the Senate (led by Sen. Sanders) called on the Biden administration to push for accountability for Israel to uphold its obligations under international law to provide vaccines to Palestinians living under its military occupation. We also disrupted Congressional silence on Israel, successfully pushing rising progressive stars like Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Rep. Joaquin Castro to speak out. In doing so we raised the bar to make opposition to Israeli apartheid a basic expectation for our leading ‘progressive’ representatives.

Expanding the medical apartheid conversation

Our organizing had to change form in the pandemic, morphing to focus on online organizing. With our coalition members, we convened frontline healthcare workers and labor rights activists from Palestine and U.S.-based speakers to make global connections on the struggle against medical apartheid. Across many channels, thousands tuned in:

Watch the “End Medical Apartheid” recording, and read the event notes and action steps.

As Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta of Imperial College London University explained during the event: “Israel has weaponized the pandemic and used it to exert pressure to extract political concessions from the Palestinians and to confer Palestine from a political question to a humanitarian crisis.”

In particular, he and other speakers focused on the experience of Palestinian people in Gaza, subject to immense trauma by Israel, denied healthcare access by Israel, and then framed by the world as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ when they clearly want justice.

Rep. Tlaib closed the event strong by explaining that Israel is responsible for providing vaccination to all Palestinian people living under its occupation. “This is only one facet of a larger issue that is medical apartheid, a system that denies Palestinians like my grandmother from traveling through medical care. And these systems are mirrored here in the United States; our Black and Indigneous neighbors are dying at even twice the rate of white Americans.”

100 progressive organizations demand Dr. Fauci End Medical Apartheid

In order to increase momentum to end medical apartheid, our coalition turned to movement partners who influence progressives in Congress and the Biden administration.  

We helped organize over 100 progressive movement organizations and leaders to demand Dr. Fauci speak out to #EndMedicalApartheid from the U.S. to Palestine:

Read the End Medical Apartheid letter to Dr. Fauci.

Together, we demonstrated widespread support from across the progressive movement to end Israel’s medical apartheid. These sign-ons—from Ady Barkan to Democratic Socialists of America’s Medicare for All Working Group to CIR-SEIU, a union of 17,000 medical residents—exerted political pressure on elected officials and changed the narrative in U.S. progressive movements. Justice inside the U.S. and around the world is inherently and inseparably intertwined.