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Bay Area Health Care Workers Protest Arms Sales to Israel

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A woman wearing a labcoat talks into a microphone at a rally of health care workers also wearing labcoats holding posters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.
Maisa Morrar speaks at a rally of health care workers in front of the L3 Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Bay Area health care workers rallied outside the San Leandro facility of military contractor L3Harris on Wednesday. About 200 nurses, pediatricians, psychiatrists and other doctors and activists gathered to protest what they call “war profiteering” by the company, which has provided surveillance technologies to Israel for years and whose components are used in missiles, warplanes and tanks.

“We are here today in front of L3Harris because we know with certainty that they are complicit in mass civilian casualties,” said Dr. Nida Bajwa, a family medicine doctor at San Francisco General Hospital.

Protesters pointed to “joint direct attack munitions,” or JDAMs, which Boeing manufactures with components from L3Harris. In a December report from Amnesty International, these weapons were linked to “two deadly, unlawful air strikes on homes full of civilians” in Gaza on Oct. 10 and Oct. 22 that killed 43 people, including 19 children.

Healthcare workers rally in front of the L3 Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024.
Health care workers rally in front of the L3Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Joint direct attack munitions are essentially an upgrade that converts unguided “dumb” bombs into precision-guided “smart” bombs. Protesters said this technology is being used to target hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

L3Harris did not respond to requests for comment.

“We stand against the destruction of any health care facility, any hospital, the killing of any doctor, any nurse,” said Jess Ghannam, a Palestinian American clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF who has worked in Gaza for decades. “For me, it’s personal because my colleagues, my friends, my peers have been killed in Gaza.”

Since Oct. 7, at least 300 health care workers have died as a result of Israeli strikes in Gaza, according to the United Nations. A shortage of medical supplies has left doctors to perform surgeries and amputations without anesthesia or adequate sanitation.

“Mothers in Gaza are being forced to choose between risking their lives going to an already overwhelmed health care system or giving birth in the streets amidst rubble,” said Dr. Saba Ali, a pediatrician at UCSF. “In hospitals, mothers are undergoing cesarean sections without anesthesia, and at times without electricity. Some are being discharged as early as three hours after giving birth because health care facilities don’t have enough beds.”

Jess Ghannam speaks at a rally of healthcare workers in front of the L3 Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024.
Jess Ghannam speaks at a rally of health care workers in front of the L3Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

In northern Gaza, seven out of 24 hospitals remain partially functional, and in southern Gaza, seven of 12 hospitals are partially functional, according to the World Health Organization.

Outside L3Harris, protesters painted the sidewalk with the words “war profiteer.” A Dec. 12 report for L3Harris investors stated that there was “increased demand for missiles driven by Ukraine (and) Israel.”

“A 2,000-pound bomb, somehow smart, dropped in the most densely populated area on the planet,” Ghannam said. “L3Harris has blood on its hands, it’s complicit, it’s culpable.”

Rally-goers raise their fists in support of Gaza in front of the L3 Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024.
Rallygoers raise their fists in support of Gaza in front of the L3Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

At the entrance to the facility, protesters hung banners that read “Stop Bombing Hospitals” and “Genocide Manufactured Here.” On a clothesline hung light blue scrubs, each printed with the name of a health care worker who died in Gaza. Between protesters speaking, they played audio clips of doctors in Gaza that described hospital walls shaking from nearby bombardment, airstrikes on hospitals killing patients and doctors and an operating room ceiling collapsing after an explosion.

Protest organizers said 200 employees left the facility by early afternoon, and operations were halted for the day.

The names of healthcare workers killed in Gaza are printed on scrubs hung in front of the L3 Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024.
The names of health care workers killed in Gaza are printed on scrubs hung in front of the L3Harris office in San Leandro on Jan. 24, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

In another protest on Wednesday, nearly 50 students rallied at a meeting of UC regents at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus in San Francisco, calling on the university system to divest from companies they say are profiting from the war in Gaza.

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Yara Kaadan, political director for Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis, said her campus has financial contracts with RTX (formerly Raytheon Technologies), which manufactures and sells weapons and military technology.

“We want this academic institution to invest its money in the community and education, not through war or the occupation of anybody in the Global South or the Middle East,” Kaadan said.

Kaadan also said the coalition was protesting item J3 on the UC Board of Regents’ agenda, which she said, “seeks to ban any department or organization under UC jurisdiction from releasing any political statements that quote-unquote, go against UC values.”

“I think this is a huge violation of the First Amendment,” Kaadan said. “People should be allowed to have political discourse within the system and have political agreements that don’t always align with the people who are in charge.”

The UC regents did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

KQED’s Madi Bolaños contributed reporting to this story.

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