U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) attends a press conference with union leaders and supporters of a cease-fire in Gaza in Washington, D.C. on December 14, 2023.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Largest Health Union in US Calls for Cease-Fire in Gaza

"War crimes committed by one side of the conflict cannot and do not serve as justification for crimes and breaches of the Geneva Conventions by the other," said 1199SEIU.

Days after U.S.-backed Israeli forces conducted its latest raid on a hospital in Gaza and as the spread of diseases including meningitis and chickenpox were reported in the besieged enclave, the largest healthcare union in the United States joined the international call for a cease-fire.

The executive council of 1199SEIU, a union that represents more than 450,000 healthcare workers from five states and Washington, D.C., said all parties involved "must commit to negotiating a permanent, just resolution to this conflict which will enable Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and build a future."

"1199SEIU calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, to allow for urgent humanitarian relief amid the collapse of the territory's health and other infrastructure," said the executive council. "International humanitarian law and the laws of war must be upheld without exception, which include the inviolability of healthcare facilities. War crimes committed by one side of the conflict cannot and do not serve as justification for crimes and breaches of the Geneva Conventions by the other."

Like other groups, lawmakers, and advocates who have been demanding a cease-fire since Israel began its bombardment of Gaza on October 7, in retaliation for a surprise attack by Hamas, the union reiterated its condemnation of Hamas, its reported "use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and kidnappings of Israelis and foreign nationals," and demanded that the group release all hostages.

The union rejected the notion that Israel's numerous attacks on healthcare centers—where doctors are struggling to treat sick and injured patients and displaced Palestinians are sheltering—as well as "apartment blocks filled with families, and the deaths of 11,000+ Palestinian women and children are acceptable collateral damage."

1199SEIU made its statement a day after the leaders of unions including the United Auto Workers; the Postal Workers Union; and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America joined progressive lawmakers at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol to urge President Joe Biden to back a cease-fire.

Recent polling has shown that 66% of Americans want the president to call for a cease-fire, but the U.S. vetoed a resolution supporting the demand last week at the United Nations Security Council and was one of just 10 countries to oppose a cease-fire in a later vote at the U.N. General Assembly.

At least 18,787 Palestinians have been killed in the war in just over two months.

1199SEIU's statement came hours after Palestinian healthcare unions issued a call for international solidarity.

"Working to provide care amid this ongoing assault has taken an enormous toll on the mental and physical health of the sector's workers," said the groups, including the Palestinian Respiratory Care Association, the Emergency Medical Service Union, and the Palestinian Occupational Therapy Association. "In the face of these formidable challenges, we call upon healthcare unions worldwide to rally in solidarity with the Palestinian health sector."

"This call is not merely about union support," the unions added. "It is a plea to the very essence of our profession—the commitment to humanity. We appeal to the compassion that drives us as healthcare professionals and the collective strength inherent in union solidarity."

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