May 19, 2024

Duckworth brings Gaza medical team’s pleas directly to White House

The Illinois senator is attempting to help a doctor who saved her life during fighting in Iraq in 2004.



Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) delivered a letter to the White House on Sunday calling on President Joe Biden to use his full influence to secure the safe exit of American and international medical personnel trapped in Gaza in anticipation of an escalating military campaign in Rafah.

The letter, shared with POLITICO, was written by Dr. Adam Hamawy, a U.S. Army combat surgeon who Duckworth credits with saving her life after she was shot down in Iraq in 2004. Hamawy is among the group of World Health Organization-coordinated doctors and aid workers stranded in Gaza and unable to fully evacuate.

“On May 13, in violation of international law, our team of medical professionals were denied exit by Israel,” Hamawy writes. “When the call finally came to evacuate only U.S. citizens, I chose to stay. As a doctor, I could not, in good conscience, leave my team behind.”

While they planned to rotate out after two weeks, Hamawy says Israeli authorities have blocked their exit from Rafah, trapping them inside Gaza. Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt on May 7, setting the stage for what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised will be a major military offensive against Hamas in the southern city — though a large contingent of civilians remain.

A screenshot of an email shared with POLITICO shows Duckworth’s office sent the letter to the White House, National Security Council and State Department on Sunday. The senator’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter calls on the White House to use its power to immediately establish a “protected humanitarian corridor” allowing the remaining medical personnel to evacuate safely and be replaced by teams waiting to enter Gaza.

“The people of Gaza deserve access to medical and humanitarian services,” Hamawy wrote. “They deserve more than their burnt out and decimated healthcare system.”

“I have never in my career witnessed the level of atrocities and targeting of my medical colleagues as I have in Gaza,” the letter added.

Over the course of the war, Biden has come under fire from a number of lawmakers, humanitarian groups and student protesters for not taking a harder line against the Israeli military campaign. The United Nations reports that nearly 500 health workers have been killed in Gaza since October.

The White House said Hamawy’s goals were in line with their own.

“We continue to engage with Israeli officials and NGOs to help the doctors in Gaza who want to leave but have been unable to do so,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “Last week, we assisted in the departure of 17 American doctors who had sought to leave Gaza and were unable to previously.”

Around the time the letter was sent out, Biden was delivering the commencement speech to Morehouse College’s graduating class in Atlanta, where he called for “an immediate cease-fire,” to “stop the fighting” and to “bring the hostages home.”

“I support peaceful nonviolent protests,” Biden said to graduates and alumni Sunday. “Your voices should be heard and I promise you I will hear them.”

By:  Joseph Gedeon