Affirmation of the Right of Return for All, Including Palestinians that 152 (at last count) members of the Harvard School of Public Health community have signed (.pdf)

Read Harvard's Taboo Subject for background to this:


Harvard and Gaza: Will Harvard Do the Right Thing?

(Here's how to donate to the Palestine Red Crescent Society to help victims of the Israeli attack on Palestinians)

by John Spritzler

last updated, August 15, 2006

Other articles by this author


The following email is my attempt to persuade Barry Bloom, the dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, to do the right thing in response to Israel's recent (July, 2006) attack on Palestinians in Gaza. So far I have not received a reply from Dean Bloom.

Below the first email to Dean Bloom and the statement by the United Nations included in it, is an exchange of emails with my department chair which she initiated in response to my having cc'd my colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health on the email to Dean Bloom. The Chair requested that I not send such "political" emails to people on their Harvard University email account because it made some people "uncomfortable" (although nobody has expressed any discomfort to me directly.)

Scroll down further to read the second email (co-signed by 16 Harvard people) sent to Dean Bloom, this one simply asking permission to send everybody at the School information on how they can donate to humanitarian relief organizations (like the Red Cross) in Gaza, Lebanon and Israel. The Dean did not reply.


----- Original Message -----
From: John Spritzler
To: Bloom, Barry R.
Sent: Sunday, July 09, 2006 5:56 PM
Subject: Statement by the United Nations Agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory

Dear Dean Bloom,
Below is a report from the United Nations, which also cites the WHO, describing the attack on the public health of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli government.
"The highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being."  These are the words carved on our FXB building.
Will the Harvard School of Public Health publicly affirm that these words apply to Palestinians?
Israel says these words do not apply to Palestinians. Israel says that the security of a state based on ethnic cleansing to create and maintain a Jewish majority trumps the principle engraved on our FXB building.
Yes, it is wrong when either Palestinians or Israelis target violence against non-combatants, as both do. But it is more wrong to use that as an excuse for supporting, by our silence, the side in a conflict that pursues ethnic cleansing and uses collective punishment for that purpose. (Nat Turner's slave rebellion very wrongly killed innocent white children in their sleep, but that didn't make slavery right.)
Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (refusing them their right of return in violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the military actions it takes to enforce it cannot be justified by whatever wrong actions some Palestinians take in reaction to it. The ethnic cleansing is the fundamental act of aggression, as David Ben-Gurion made clear when he told the Political Committee of his party, Mapai, in 1938,

"When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves -- that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves...But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves." [Flapan, Simha, Zionism and the Palestinians, London, Croom Helm, 1979, p. 141, cited by Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, Vintage Books, New York, 2001, p. 676 ]

Who is right? Israel? Or the words carved on our building?
If now isn't the time to speak out forcibly for the principles we claim to endorse, then when is?
If not us, who?
John Spritzler

Statement by the United Nations Agencies working  in the occupied Palestinian territory

8th July 2006

The United Nations Humanitarian Agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory, are alarmed by developments on the ground, which have seen innocent civilians, including children, killed, brought increased misery to hundreds of thousands of people and which will wreak far-reaching harm on Palestinian society. An already alarming situation in Gaza, with poverty rates at nearly eighty per cent and unemployment at nearly forty per cent, is likely to deteriorate rapidly, unless immediate and urgent action is taken.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with 980,000 refugees, believes that Gaza is on the brink of a public health disaster. Since the strike on Gaza’s only power plant on June 28th, the entire strip is without electricity for between 12 and 18 hours every day. The Coastal Municipality Water Utility is now relying on its own backup generators to operate its 130 water wells and 33 sewage pumping plants. As it only has 5,000 liters of the 18,000 liters of fuel needed, the Water Utility’s daily operation has been cut by two thirds, resulting in water shortages and a critical situation at the sewage plants. With restrictions on the humanitarian supply lines there is now a backlog of over 230 containers of food awaiting delivery through the Karni Crossing and the bill for surcharges arising from these delays has reached as staggering half a million dollars.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis. WHO estimates that though hospitals and 50 per cent of Primary Health Care Centres have generators, the current stock of fuel will last for a maximum of two weeks. Those generators which are being used were intended for backup purposes and the malfunctioning of these generators will have grave consequences. According to WHO in the last week, there has been a 160 per cent increase in cases of diarrhea compared with the same period last year. Compounding these problems, WHO estimates that 23 per cent of the essential drug list will be out of stock within one month.  WHO is also alarmed by the tightening of restrictions on patients needing to leave Gaza for treatment. Only a handful of extremely critical cases  have crossed through Erez since June 25th even though prior to current developments, an average of 25 cancer patients left through Erez every week. According to WHO, the monthly referral rate of emergency patients stands now at between 500 and 700 people.

The World Food Programme (WFP)
estimates that in June 70 % of the Gaza population were already unable to cover their daily food needs without assistance. The escalation of hostilities has made food an increasingly critical issue. Wheat flour mills, food factories and bakeries, reliant on electricity are being forced to reduce their production due to power shortages; furthermore the loss of capacity to preserve perishable food in the Gaza heat is resulting in high food losses in the home. Supplies of sugar, dairy products and milk are running extremely low due to limited commercial supplies from Israel; as a result food prices have increased by 10% in the past 3 weeks. WFP is assisting 160,000 of the most food insecure non refugees in Gaza and is standing by to respond to additional needs as they emerge as part of a coordinated interagency response. WFP believes it is essential that a humanitarian corridor for relief items and personnel remains open to avert a further deterioration in the food security situation at this critical time.

According to the United Nations Childrens’ Fund, (UNICEF) children in Gaza are living in an environment of extraordinary violence, insecurity and fear. Electricity and fuel shortages are leading to a reduction in the quantity and quality of health care and water accessible to children. The ongoing fighting is hurting children psychologically. Caregivers say children are showing signs of distress and exhaustion, including a 15%-20% increase in bedwetting, due to shelling and sonic booms. UNICEF-supported counseling teams also report a large increase in the number of requests for assistance. UNICEF says steady supplies of fuel and electricity are needed to store safely and transport vaccine and drugs, and for operating primary health care facilities. UNICEF stressed that children are always most vulnerable to outbreaks of communicable disease brought on by lack of water and sanitation.

The use of force by Israel during its military operations into the Gaza Strip has resulted in an increasing number of deaths and other casualties amongst the Palestinian civilian population, and significant damage to civilian property and infrastructure, says the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Whilst Israel has legitimate security concerns, international humanitarian law requires that the principles of proportionality and distinction between civilians and combatants be respected at all times. The prohibition on targeting civilians is also being violated by Palestinian armed groups, launching missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel, and must therefore end. The deterioration in the current human rights situation requires that measures are promptly taken to put an end to these actions and to ensure the protection of civilians.

The Office of the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
is calling for the continuous and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance and fuel supplies. Nahal Oz and Karni must remain open twenty-four hours a day, if humanitarian need is to be adequately met. In addition, OCHA is calling for the opening of the Rafah Crossing, to allow in 250 passengers stranded in Egypt and to allow the passage of emergency health cases that cannot be treated in Gaza. UN operations to deliver assistance are already being hampered by the fighting. But humanitarian assistance is not enough to prevent suffering. With the bombing of the electric plant, the lives of 1.4 million people, almost half of them children, worsened overnight. The Government of Israel should repair the damage done to the power station.  Obligations under international humanitarian law, applying to both parties, include preventing harm to civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure and also refraining from collective measures, intimidation and reprisals. Civilians are disproportionately paying the price of this conflict. In the immediate future, OCHA fears that the humanitarian situation could easily deteriorate, with continued Israeli military operations and artillery shelling, which could damage the remaining infrastructure and essential services.  

The United Nations humanitarian agencies believe that the facts on the ground speak for themselves and carry their own imperatives to all parties. Unless urgent action is taken, we are facing a humanitarian crisis that will have far reaching consequences for the communities we work in and the institutions we work through.

Statement of the Secretary-General  

As I have repeatedly stated, I am extremely concerned about the dangerous situation in the occupied Palestinian Territory. I am appealing for urgent action to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation of the civilian population. The Israeli air strikes on Gaza's only power plant have had a far-reaching impact on Gaza' s hospitals, flour mills, water and sanitation systems.  The strict controls imposed during the past weeks on the passage of basic products into Gaza, including fuel, have aggravated the difficulties of the population. A statement issued earlier today by UN humanitarian agencies operating in the occupied Palestinian Territory provides more details on the situation.

To address shortages of basic foodstuffs, and to maintain essential health and sanitation services, I call on the Government of  Israel to restore and maintain the continuous and uninterrupted supply of fuel to Gaza and to act expeditiously to replace the destroyed equipment at the Gaza power plant. The passage of foodstuffs and other essential supplies through the Karni commercial crossing should be ensured and restrictions on movement and access for UN agencies should be lifted forthwith. Such steps should be without prejudice to the need to implement in full the Access and Movement Agreement of 15 November 2005.

I reiterate my appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Berlin, 8 July 2006

Christopher Gunness
Head of Public Information
Mobile: +972 (0) 545627825


Judith Harel

United Nations Office for the Coordination

of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Mac House

P.O.Box 38712


Tel: 02 - 5829962/5853

Mobile: 0546 - 600 528


Here is the exchange between my department chair and myself (and some others who joined in) about whether it was appropriate for me to cc my colleagues, at their Harvard email accounts, on my email to Dean Bloom.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Louise Ryan"
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 5:45 PM
Subject: Re: Statement by the United Nations Agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory

Dear John,
I admire your passion on this complex and heartbreaking issue.
However, I can't help but feel that it is innappropriate to use the
school email system for political activism.  You of course have every
right to express your opinion to Dean Bloom and anyone else, and I
applaud you for doing so.  I see that your own email is not a
school-based one, so you have every right to email Dean Bloom on this
topic.  But may I ask that you not cc others connected to the department using their department addresses when you do so?  I think that many may feel uncomfortable being included in such communications. 
Thanks John,
Louise Ryan
Professor of Biostatistics
Harvard School of Public Health
655 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115
----- Original Message -----
From: John Spritzler
To: Louise Ryan
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 7:52 PM
Subject: Re: Statement by the United Nations Agencies working in theoccupied Palestinian territory

Dear Louise,
If you say I cannot send messages that you label "political" to Harvard email addresses, then ok, I will not.
But please tell me, what is the principle operating here?
I get emails on my Harvard account all the time from people asking me to sponsor them when they run a race for various social (i.e. "political") causes, or asking me to buy their daughter's Girl Scout Cookies to promote the social (i.e. "political") aims of the Girl Scouts organization. Nobody asked if these made me uncomfortable. If I had said they did make me uncomfortable, would such emails be prohibited? These are causes that one could choose to label "political" or choose not to, depending on..., well, what? Depending upon whether one supports these causes or not? Depending upon whether they relate to the Mission of the Harvard School of Public Health? What is the principle?
My recent email was about the fact that the Mission of the Harvard School of Public Health--to "increase awareness of public health as a public good and fundamental right" ( )--is under attack. My email was about how Israel is attacking not only the public health of Palestinians in Gaza, but also the assertion of the HSPH Mission that Gazans have a fundamental right to public health. Israel says that Harvard is wrong, that when it is necessary to deny people their right to return to their country in order to maintain a Jewish majority, then for those people public health is NOT a fundamental right. My email was asking people to stand up for our Mission statement, the Mission statement that everybody who received my email is supposedly employed by Harvard to carry out. Do you really believe such a message is "inappropriate" for Harvard employees to receive on their Harvard account? Really?
What could possibly be a more appropriate message?
The reality, as we both well know, is that the people with real power in our country (and I do not mean Jews, I mean wealthy people) are pro-Israel and they make it very uncomfortable for people to stand up for basic human rights when that means being critical of Israel. My email underscored that we face a difficult choice--either stand up for human rights and risk the displeasure of very powerful people, or remain silent and escape that risk. No doubt this message made some people uncomfortable.
But what is the principle here? Is the principle that anything that makes anybody uncomfortable is thereby automatically "political" and "inappropriate?" I am sure that you can think of an historical period not too many decades ago in which a European, civilized, legally empowered government trampled the human rights of a religiously-defined ethnic group and dared the world to come to the aid of their victims, a period during which some people living in that country, "good" people as they have come to be ironically known, acted on this principle, and now are viewed very negatively for having done so.
What is the principle, please, Louise? I think I deserve at least to be told that.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Louise Ryan"
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 8:03 PM
Subject: Re: Statement by the United Nations Agencies working intheoccupied Palestinian territory

Dear John,
you make a good point when you say that there should be a "principle" in place.  Please give me a little time to think on this and I will get back to you about it,


From: "George Salzman" <>
To: "John Spritzler" <>; "Louise Ryan" <>
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 12:32 AM
Subject: Re: An exchange re Gaza with my Harvard Department Chair

Dear John Spritzler and Louise Ryan,

       The exchange between you interests me
because, as an older American, I think it is
deplorable that so many Americans are not
uncomfortable as the U.S. destroys the lives of
countless human beings, and not only outside the
U.S., and the biosphere as well. The Israeli
government is clearly destroying the lives of
several million Palestinians, which it could not
do without the total backing of the U.S. Why are
so many Americans not only not uncomfortable but
outraged, fiercely angry? What is wrong with us?
Please let me know how your discussion develops.
Thank you.

Sincerely, and with best wishes,

----- Original Message -----
From: "Louise Ryan" <>
To: "John Spritzler" <>; "George Salzman" <>
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 10:07 AM
Subject: Re: An exchange re Gaza with my Harvard Department Chair

Dear John and George,

I, and I am sure many others, are angry about this and many other deplorable situations in the world.  My concern is that the workplace
may not be the appropriate venue for expressing those opinions, especially when included in a dialogue without permission.  Indeed, this is exactly what has happened now. 

John, I am not  pleased to have been pulled into yet another dialogue between and another person, without your first asking whether I wanted to be so engaged. 


Louise Ryan
Professor of Biostatistics
Harvard School of Public Health

----- Original Message -----
From: "John Spritzler" <>
To: "George Salzman" <>; "Louise Ryan" <>
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 6:40 PM
Subject: Re: An exchange re Gaza with my Harvard Department Chair

Dear Louise,

I know of no dialogue that you are in without your permission. The concept is an oxymoron. If people write to you in response to something you wrote to me, that is not a dialog unless you choose to make it one by replying to them, as you have done here with George.

As to the appropriateness of the workplace venue for expressing opinions about how to stand up for the Mission of the workplace, what better venue could there be? I am still waiting for your articulation of the principle regarding this that you said you would communicate to me.



----- Original Message -----
From: James Herod
To: Louise Ryan
Cc: John Spritzler ; George Salzman
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 10:41 PM
Subject: Free Speech at Harvard?

[see the text of James Herod's wonderful letter here]

----- Original Message -----
From: "Louise Ryan" <>
To: "John Spritzler" <>
Cc: "Taso Markatos" <>
Sent: Saturday, July 15, 2006 9:21 PM
Subject: Email policies

Dear John,

As promised, I have made some inquiries regarding the general principles related to use of the HSPH email system.  The relevant section (2.6.F) from the Harvard Personnel Manual is as follows:   


University technology resources should not be used in connection with lobbying (except official University lobbying activities authorized by the Office of the Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs) or political campaigns. In addition, such resources must not be used for private business or commercial activities, except where such activities are otherwise permitted under applicable University policies.

Faculties and departments may supplement this policy with more unit-specific policies not inconsistent with this statement. It is the responsibility of university employees to be familiar with University and faculty/departmental policies.

The complete text regarding use of I/T Resources can be found online:


So John, it seems to me that your practice of sending political emails with long cc lists to people connected to the department are counter to the policy.  I would say the same thing to someone who is using departmental emails to sell girl scout cookies or advertize an apartment for rent.  This coming week I will send an email to the entire department reminding them of the policies.  

I consider this matter resolved now and do not wish to engage in further long email discussions with you about this or related matters.   Please respect my wish, as well as my request that you not forward any more of my email communications with you to other people.


Louise Ryan
Professor of Biostatistics


Because of her last paragraph above, I have not replied to Louise Ryan and I ask that nobody else does either. (For the record, I never forwarded Louise's email address to anybody.) If I were to reply, however, this is what I would say:


Dear Louise,

My original question to you, asking for the principle,  was stated this way:

"My email [to Dean Bloom with cc's to others at Harvard] was asking people to stand up for our Mission statement ['to increase awareness of public health as a public good and fundamental right' ( )], the Mission statement that everybody who received my email is supposedly employed by Harvard to carry out. Do you really believe such a message is 'inappropriate' for Harvard employees to receive on their Harvard account?"

I had in mind a principle at a somewhat more fundamental level than, "because Harvard says so."

But if that is the level at which you want to reply, so be it. In looking, however, at section (2.6.F) from the Harvard Personnel Manual, which you cite as the "relevant" text, it is clearly not relevant at all. It says that University resources should not be used for "lobbying" or "political campaigns" or for "private business" or "commercial activities." My email to colleagues was none of these things. Lobbying means an effort to persuade elected politicians to vote one way or another, and a political campaign is an effort to persuade citizens to vote for a particular candidate or party or for a particular answer to a referendum question. This has nothing to do with asking colleagues to stand up for our Mission statement. (Obviously, my email was not "commercial" or about "private business" either.)

You may "consider this matter resolved," but I do not believe you have provided a real principle for barring my emails to colleagues, except, of course, the principle of  "I say so."


John Spritzler


Here is the email (signed by sixteen people from the Harvard School of Public Health or its Harvard affiliates) that was sent to the School's Dean, Barry Bloom, on July 24, 2006. Below it is Dean Bloom's reply sent August 14 and my reply to it. 

----- Original Message -----
From: John Spritzler
To: Bloom, Barry R.
Cc: Chernoff, Miriam (sdac) ; Schoenfeld, David 
Sent: Monday, July 24, 2006 8:21 PM
Subject: Appeal for humanitarian relief donations for the Middle East

Dear Dean Bloom:

Several of us who work at the School are very concerned about the deteriorating public health situation in the Middle East, including Israel, Gaza and Lebanon. We would like to ask your permission to e-mail the following letter to the HSPH community in order to bring attention to this situation and appeal for donations to established organizations that are working hard to ameliorate the public health crisis. Please let us know if we may do so through the HSPH email system. Alternatively, we appeal to you to send a similar message. This conflict has been a long-term one and is gravely affecting the lives of thousands.


John Spritzler, Sc.D.

Miriam Chernoff, Ph.D.

Professor David Schoenfeld

[Thirteen other people from the Harvard School of Public Health or its affiliated Harvard institutions co-signed this letter]



Dear Harvard School of Public Health Community:

Georgios Comninos, the head of The International Committee of the Red Cross operations in the Middle East, has recently noted "serious concern about the humanitarian consequences of the current conflict affecting the civilian population whether in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon or Israel.."  In this appeal, he emphasized that "As a general rule, the parties must allow access to and evacuation of the injured and, more specifically in the Gaza Strip, that the civilian population be supplied with essential items as required under the Geneva Conventions." (July 13, 2006) (1).  We are very concerned too. Public water supplies, sewage systems and hospitals are not functioning well and there are seriously increased health risk to the people living in the conflict areas. In addition, a recent article in the Jordan Times highlights problems of one particular special needs population, the deaf ("Perpetuating the cycle of violence" by Michael Jansen, July13, 2006) (2).

On July 11, 2006, The group, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel, along with several other Israeli human rights groups, petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to open Gaza crossings to facilitate flow of humanitarian supplies (3). On July 12, the Daily Star reported that the European Union began getting fuel supplies into Gaza hospitals for their generators (4). Help is on its way but much needs to be done.

We would like to urge those within the HSPH community to donate to any of the agencies that are helping bring humanitarian relief to these areas. Some suggested agencies include but are not limited to:

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
The International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
The Palestine Red Crescent Society
Medical Aid for Palestine
The Magen David Adom in Israel
The Lebanese Red Cross

Thank you so much,
Miriam Chernoff, Ph.D.
John Spritzler, Sc.D.
Professor David Schoenfeld





Other articles:
Reuters- ICRC concern over humanitarian issues in Gaza.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Barry Bloom" <>
To: "John Spritzler" <>
Cc: "David Schoenfeld" <>; "Miriam (sdac) Chernoff" <>
Sent: Monday, August 14, 2006 12:41 PM
Subject: Re: Appeal for humanitarian relief donations for the MiddleEast

Dear John and Colleagues:

I appreciate and respect your deep concern for the events taking place in the mid-East and the danger it is presenting to civilian populations in terms of immediate loss of life and injury as well as the longer term consequences.

Nevertheless, you will appreciate that as Dean I cannot take official action representing the school and all its  faculty on making any statement, disseminating a request for any action such as a donation or allowing the School avenues of communication to be used to solicit any kind of donation.   The only instances in which this has been done has been in the circumstance of natural disasters.  As a matter of School and university policy, we cannot expand on this very limited area for appealing to the School community through official School channels.  In this instance, I am certain that there are many other channels by which assistance can be provided.

I am hopeful that today's cease-fire will mark the end of hostilities and enable support to reach all the affected populations.  And I do appreciate your interest and concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Barry R. Bloom 



----- Original Message -----
From: "John Spritzler" <>
To: "Barry Bloom" <>
Cc: [the 16 people who signed the original email to Dean Bloom]
Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 12:56 PM
Subject: Re: Appeal for humanitarian relief donations for the MiddleEast

Dear Dean Bloom,

Thank you for replying to our request to send everybody at the School an email informing them how to donate to relief organizations serving people in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.

It is unfortunate that you are unable to do something similar to what Jeff Davis, Sr. Vice President, Human Resources at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital did (see his email to Broadcast MGH below.)


John Spritzler

-----Original Message-----

From: Broadcast MGH

Sent: Friday, August 04, 2006 10:01 AM

To: All User MGH

Subject: Humanitarian Aid

We have received a number of inquiries from staff who are interested in contributing to humanitarian relief for those affected by the conflict along the Israel and Lebanon border. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which includes in its federation the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, the Palestine Red Crescent, and the Magen David Adom Societies, is accepting donations and currently providing relief in the affected areas. The ICRC is an independent, neutral organization ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence.

If you go to <>, you can make a donation and specify where you wish your donation to go (e.g. Lebanon or Israel).

Jeff Davis

Sr. Vice President, Human Resources