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British Medical Association sparks backlash over call for Gaza ceasefire

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been criticised by some of its members over a letter it wrote calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East.

The British Medical Association BMA HQ offices, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, England, UK,  WC1H 9JP
The British Medical Association has written a letter to the foreign secretary calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East. (Alamy)

A number of healthcare professionals have condemned the British Medical Association (BMA) after it issued a letter calling for government action to stop the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In the letter, addressed to foreign secretary Lord Cameron, the BMA said "it is vital that the UK stands up for human rights and medical neutrality during this crucial period if, for no other reason, than it is the right thing to do".

However, the organisation was criticised by a number of its own members for what they called the lack of neutrality in the letter, which made no reference to the 130 Israeli hostages being held by Hamas or the militants' attack on 7 October which claimed the lives of about 1,200 people.

Monday marked 100 days since those attacks, which were followed by Israeli air strikes that Hamas says have killed more than 23,000 people in Gaza.

The BMA trade union represents about 190,000 doctors, and its 12 January letter was signed by Professor Philip Banfield, BMA Council chair, and Dr Latifa Patel, representative body chair and equality lead at the BMA.

Addressing Cameron, the letter read: "We are writing to you, on behalf of the BMA, to express our grave concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

"Normal medical services have been suspended; supplies including water, fuel and medicines are highly limited or unavailable entirely; the majority of hospitals have been forced to close.

"The Israeli blockade of Gaza has led to an inexcusable shortage of basic necessities to all civilians including, but not limited to, water, food and fuel.

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"There has been damage to hundreds of medical facilities. According to the World Health Organization, there were 427 attacks on healthcare by the end of November. Hundreds of medical personnel have lost their lives.

"This represents a clear breach of international humanitarian law. The impact on healthcare and health workers is indicative of a violation of medical neutrality."

The letter urged the government to work with others to call for an immediate ceasefire.

The BMA's letter has divided opinion among its members, with some welcoming its response while others were angry it made no reference to Israeli hostages.

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Liz Lightstone, professor of renal medicine at Imperial College London, accused the BMA letter of being "antisemitic".

She wrote on X, formerly Twitter: "Ashamed to be a member of the BMA after all these years. This letter is as far from a statement of neutrality as can be imagined.

"No mention of hostages which include children and women who have been held for over 100 days. No mention of the genocidal attacks on 7 Oct. No mention of the need for the safety of Israeli citizens."

Jon Goldin, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, posted: "I resigned from the BMA today after over 30 years as a member. This letter is very far from ‘medical neutrality’.

"The war is a tragedy with innocent people getting killed on both sides and I sincerely hope it ends asap."

Paul Pfeffer, a consultant respiratory physician at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, said: "A truly neutral statement would acknowledge the horrors being felt by people on both sides of the conflict.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, January 16, 2024. REUTERS/Arafat Barbakh
Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout picture released on January 16, 2024. Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS.  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Reuters)
Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, January 15, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip on Monday. (Reuters)
This photograph taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on January 16, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on Tuesday. (AFP via Getty Images)

"So shame on you the BMA for a statement that is far from neutral. No mention of the horrors perpetrated by Hamas. No plea for release of hostages."

Daniel Sugarman, director of public affairs for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, pointed out that the letter did not include the BMA's previous request for "the immediate release of all hostages", as detailed in a post on its website on 22 November 2023.

He wrote on X: "What I'd quite like to know is why one of the points mentioned in the BMA position on the Israel-Gaza conflict - as per its website - somehow fails to make it into this letter. Was there not room?"

However, there was praise for the BMA's stance from some doctors in the UK.

Huda Mahmoud, a nephrologist, wrote: "Thank you BMA for a measured, humanitarian response. The atrocities befalling Gaza are not complex or complicated.

"Never again, means we can't turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Gazans or any other ethnicity ever again."

And Anisur Rahman, professor of Rheumatology at University College London, said: "Well done to the BMA. Healthcare for innocent civilians including thousands of children has been rendered impossible by incessant attacks on healthcare in Gaza. It has to stop."

A BMA spokesperson told Yahoo News UK: “The BMA absolutely wants to see the release of all hostages unharmed, and has consistently called for this, including in our comprehensive position statement that is referenced in this letter, and in our initial response to the situation in October that condemned the Hamas attack.

“This letter focuses specifically on the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the unique and severe impact this is having on the health of civilians, healthcare services and healthcare staff working there.

“It also clearly calls for an immediate ceasefire and respect for international law, which applies to both parties in the conflict. The taking of hostages is in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, and therefore we continue to call for their release.”