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Connective Issues: A UMass Chan diversity and inclusion blog

UMass Chan community reflects on the war in the Middle East

Friday, December 01, 2023
By:  Janjay Innis

UMass Chan community reflects on the war in the Middle East
This newsletter was created by our Diversity and Inclusion Office to serve as a platform for the often-unheard voices of individuals living in the margins whose stories are integral to our shared human experience and align with the values and mission of our institution. In this special issue, we seek to do just that by focusing on a story of great breadth and timeliness: the crisis in Israel and Palestine. Through the powerful voices of our community, we aim to shed light on the diverse and nuanced ways individuals within our community have been shaped and transformed because of this long and ongoing crisis.

While we have all been impacted, we deemed it crucial to spotlight the voices of those living on the margins individuals who tirelessly fight to have their perspectives heard. This special issue is a deliberate effort to amplify voices that often go unnoticed, recognizing that the experiences of our marginalized community members are both unique and vital to the broader conversation surrounding the impact of this crisis. While the selected narratives represent significant aspects of our community, we acknowledge that they do not encompass its entirety. Our goal is to create a space for exploration and understanding, a space where empathy can be developed.

While each narrative illustrates different examples of trauma, they collectively emphasize the urgent need for meaningful conversations that acknowledge humanity beneath the headlines. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to lead with compassion, empathy and curiosity, standing together in support of those whose lives have been impacted and who have to fight to have their voices heard. 


Diversity and Inclusion Office

Student who requested anonymity 
In the past 7 weeks, my faith in the oath that physicians, present and future, take, to do no harm, is completely shaken by the failure to actualize our duty beyond medicine to advocacy, equity, and justice.

As an Arab and a Muslim, I am left heartbroken, wondering how little must we think of Palestinians, that on hearing Israeli officers refer to them as human animals, deserving of massacre, and promising a second Nakba (referring to the Zionist campaign of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 that killed over 10,000 Palestinians and displaced over 750,000), it compels neither words nor action?

The horrors we are witnessing, with over 15,000 Palestinians murdered by Israeli bombs, the targeting of hospitals, healthcare workers and patients, and blockading against electricity, food, water and medicine, make it hard to do anything – to sleep, eat, study… to even feel joy. It has been horrifying to witness the dehumanization and minimization of these tragedies, especially from peers and mentors I looked up to. I wonder how they will treat someone of my community when they come to them for care.

This constant dehumanization, with anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and specifically anti-Palestinians rhetoric, breeds danger that only continues to rise, like the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian child in Michigan, and the shooting of 3 Palestinian college students in Vermont, for the apparent crime of being Palestinian.  We feel demoralized, exhausted, and terrified.

Moreso, our communities are not afforded protection – we are silenced and ignored, the violence done to us justified or diminished.  Still, every day you can see a diverse community of Arabs, Muslins, Christians, Jews, Black and Indigenous peoples, and individuals from every walk of life, standing with each other and fighting against racism and violence, for freedom for all.  There - I can at least feel safe.  

Bekah Diamond, JD 
Executive director, Business Strategy & Operational
Excellence Healthcare Finance Solutions at ForHealth Consulting 

The world, unfortunately, has no shortage of events that sit heavily on our hearts and occupy our minds. Most recently and most prominently, we have been faced with the murder, rape and kidnapping of Jews and others in Israel and the suffering and killing of Palestinian civilians.  All of this is happening and yet we get out of bed, put on our left shoe and then our right, go to work, turn on our computers, go to meetings, and see patients. And yet, we can’t compartmentalize the impact of these events. What is happening right now, especially as a Jew, gnaws at me constantly even at work. What do my colleagues think of me? Do they question my judgment? Am I safe to speak freely in my community? How can I sit here while so many are suffering? People are hurting and feeling alienated. We have chosen career paths to focus on caring for others and making the world a better place, but we can still feel scared and stressed in our own community. At a time like this, it is important to remember to be compassionate, to check in on your colleagues, and to remember that we often cannot compartmentalize the impact that these events have on us.   

Anindita Deb, MD

Associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery; co-director, Division of Movement Disorders

Director, Vista Pathways; director, Global Health, Collaborative in Health Equity 

The impact of the conflict is complex, and my heart goes out to those who are personally affected. As a physician, I care about the health and wellness of all people so inevitably, this affects me as it does many of us at UMass Chan. I worry about my patients and how to support them. As a global health educator and researcher, I am concerned about my learners and collaborators abroad and how this is impacting them. As a member of the UMass Chan community, I am concerned about my learners and colleagues here and how this is affecting their daily life and work. As an academic institution, we should identify ways to provide safe space to have respectful discourse on current events, as difficult as it may be, as this is the only way forward. In times like these, I hope that our UMass Chan community can come together to support one another so that we can be effective in advancing together.  

Wissam Deeb, MD 
Assistant professor of neurology 

The latest Israel-Palestine war has been traumatic to me. As an Arab American, I felt a sense of being dehumanized, a need to prove my humanity, even to people who knew me for many years. Arabs, and particularly Palestinians, started getting called “savages” and many other dehumanizing terms. These feelings are further compounded by continued scenes of mounting civilian deaths in Gaza and the West Bank, now more than 10,000. The lack of respect for the sanctity of health institutions and health care workers continues to be distressing, especially with the lack of a moral position from most U.S. medical institutions. As a human and a physician, I think the loss of civilian life is deplorable regardless of political, ethnic, religious or regional affiliations. Hearing rhetoric from colleagues and statements from institutions that do not sanctify all life, primarily civilian, due to their political stance makes me feel isolated in my profession. 

Matthew G. Schwartz, PhD

Senior program manager, faculty development for Investigator Career Advancement Program (iCAP), Office of Health Equity

On Oct. 7, I was traveling in Israel for my father-in-law’s birthday with 11 family members, including my 3-year-old and 9-month-old daughters. We were staying just 50 miles from Gaza, and I was heartbroken to have to explain to my daughter why we had to shelter in place at our hotel. 

To say I have been deeply affected by this conflict would be an understatement; friends have been called up to the reserves to defend Israel and have lost loved ones to Hamas’ brutality. Antisemitism has become my new reality; when I drop off and pick up my daughter at school, I’m reminded by the new security measures in place creating barriers, shatter-proof window film and additional security guards. Day-to-day in my role at UMass Chan, I work to make academia more inclusive and equitable by supporting early-career research faculty through the Investigator Career Advancement Program (iCAP). I returned to work on Oct. 11 to attend DIO’s Diversity Summit and presented a poster sharing iCAP’s work. Most people I spoke to that day had no idea I had just come back from Israel. This experience only further deepens my commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging because it reminds me that you never know what others are experiencing.

Student who requested anonymity 
I am a student at UMass Chan, which puts me in an inherently privileged position, as does every medical student. We are medical students for one reason: to serve our patients. Our values as aspiring health care professionals are being tested. For too long, the U.S. has ignored the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza living under apartheid or siege, who have been denied lifesaving medical care by their occupiers. The U.S. has ignored Palestinians whose lives have, for decades, been labeled as inherently less valuable than their Israeli counterparts. 

My grief for Palestinians did not start on Oct. 7. I grew up hearing stories of elders being expelled from their homes during the 1948 catastrophe, the Nakba. I grew up with children who were born and raised and died in Palestinian refugee camps, in a land that is not theirs, who do not hold citizenship in any country. My question to the UMass Chan community is: When you see children under rubble, when you see patients undergoing surgery without anesthesia, when you see journalists being targeted, when you see ambulances blown up, when you see hospitals being destroyed, do you not grieve? Does your Hippocratic Oath not urge you to act against injustice or does it not hold value?

I have not been able to focus on anything besides the plight of Palestinians since the start of the Israeli occupation's most recent aggression in Gaza. As medical students and health care professionals, I urge you to act. I urge you to use your voice to call for a ceasefire, so this endless bloodshed stops. 

Student who requested anonymity 
I grew up in an extremely medically underserved community. Many of my relatives had died before reaching adulthood, from treatable causes. Being heavily influenced by my early childhood, I am pursuing medicine with the mission of improving health care access for underserved populations. Witnessing the long-lasting genocide and occupation of Palestinians, especially the illegal and horrific acts towards health care institutions and personnel, and American health care institutions' apathy towards it, has shaken my confidence in our profession. The silence, neutrality and avoidance make it clear that only some patients' lives and health matters. Prior to Oct. 7, Palestinians were severely medically underserved. Gaza has more people per square mile than New York City and many do not have access to basic health care, despite greater need. Like my community growing up, many Palestinians are dying from treatable causes, due to the complete destruction of their health care system. As health care providers, it is our duty to stand with Palestinian patients, who have been denied their right to health care, along with their right to life. It is our duty to speak out against lies that are being weaponized to spread racism and Islamophobia in our nation and our institutions. Silence and neutrality make us complicit in Israel's crimes against humanity and in the hate crimes being committed much closer to home. We have to stand with the oppressed and with truth. We have to stand with Palestine to reclaim our humanity, our oath and our duty to patients.