Rallygoers at Baystate hospital in Springfield highlight plight of health care in Gaza

Conway resident Priscilla Lynch holds a sign with Greenfield resident Emily Greene at a rally protesting the destruction of health care in Gaza in front of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield on Tuesday morning.

Conway resident Priscilla Lynch holds a sign with Greenfield resident Emily Greene at a rally protesting the destruction of health care in Gaza in front of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield on Tuesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Moshe Ronen counter protests at a rally protesting the destruction of health care in Gaza in front of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield on Tuesday morning.

Moshe Ronen counter protests at a rally protesting the destruction of health care in Gaza in front of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield on Tuesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Celadry June holds a “free Palestine” sign at a rally protesting the destruction of health care in Gaza in front of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield  Tuesday morning.

Celadry June holds a “free Palestine” sign at a rally protesting the destruction of health care in Gaza in front of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield Tuesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 05-21-2024 6:44 PM

Modified: 05-21-2024 6:56 PM


SPRINGFIELD — Calling for an end to the destruction of hospitals and health care in Gaza, a dozen protesters gathered with songs and banners in front of Baystate Medical Center on Tuesday morning.

“If this were Palestine, we wouldn’t have this hospital,” said rally organizer Dodi Melnicoff, a Greenfield resident. “The doctors would be gone, the EMTs would be bombed on their way to help people.”

Protesters sought to focus their demands on the American Medical Association and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield, calling on the AMA to issue a statement condemning the destruction in Gaza and on Neal to stop voting to fund weapons for Israel.

Melnicoff and others say the U.S. is violating the Leahy Law, which prohibits the U.S. government from supplying military aid to foreign armies engaged in gross violations of human rights.

As a member of the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee, Nick Mottern of Northampton has been fasting from dawn to dusk since Dec. 14. He castigated President Joe Biden for condemning the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor’s recent call for arrest warrants to be issued for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders on war crimes charges.

Mottern in turn called for the arrest of Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as accomplices to mass murder, and said Massachusetts’ congressional representatives “look the other way” while the U.S. violates its own laws.

Neal’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The congressman was scheduled to appear Tuesday in Springfield to celebrate funding for Union Station improvements. He also spoke at a City Hall event to announce a new community center at Baystate.

The AMA said in a statement that its board of trustees “shares many of the same concerns raised” by the protesters.

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“We appreciate the passion and urgency expressed by people who care deeply about the ongoing violence in the Middle East,” the AMA stated.

In a statement issued Nov. 9, the AMA said it “stands with the physicians and health care personnel who are on the frontlines of this crisis.”

The assault on Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count. The military campaign has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has displaced much of the coastal enclave’s population and driven parts of it to starvation. Additionally, almost 500 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed by Israeli forces since the start of hostilities.

The United Nations announced Tuesday that it has suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to lack of supplies and insecurity. It also said no aid trucks entered via a pier set up by the U.S. for sea deliveries for the past two days.

Across Chestnut Street from the Baystate rally, four counterprotesters waved Israeli and U.S. flags.

Gerry Berg of Enfield, Connecticut, said they were there to support Neal and to support the hospital.

Jackie Brickell of Springfield said that if Hamas didn’t hide in Gaza’s hospitals they wouldn’t be bombed.

“They don’t care how many people are killed,” she said, referring to Hamas.

Israel has consistently said attacks on hospitals are justified because Hamas and other militant groups are embedded inside them. News organizations are unable to verify these claims, which are rejected by hospital staff.

Brickell said the pro-Palestinian protesters “just want to get rid of Israel.”

Melnicoff, who said she comes from a family of Eastern European Jews, cast the conflict in historical terms, saying the seeds were sown long ago. Her father, who fought in World War II, was never in favor of displacing a people for the creation of Israel, she said.

“Israel with U.S. funding and backing is waging a war on children and women,” she said in a statement.

As of May there were 15 hospitals out of 36 in Gaza partially functioning, according to the World Health Organization and communication from hospitals. Functioning hospitals are severely overcrowded and have faced shortages of important supplies, according to relief groups.

Greenfield musician Ben Grosscup said he has been involved in the movement for Palestinian rights for 23 years. He writes some of his own protest songs and collects others.

There is war and killing in many places, he noted, but he sees Gaza as the place where U.S. military involvement is causing the most harm.

“There’s an intimate and grotesque connection between weapons production and the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza,” he said.

Tuesday’s rally was organized by Demilitarize Western Mass. and Western Mass CodePink.

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com. Material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press was used in this report.