Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert testifies about the hell of Gaza

30 Jul 2014

Professor Mads Gilbert is a Norwegian emergency physician who gained international fame for his support to the Palestinian people. From the Al-Shifa hospital in besieged Gaza, he challenged Obama to spend one night in the hospital during the murderous Israeli bombing campaign. After two weeks working in the war zone, he left Gaza last Monday. On the way back home, he made a stopover in Brussels to testify about his experience.

“My key message is clear,” he says, “This is an all-out war against Palestinian civilians.”

It is a bold statement Gilbert also substantiates with data: “One third of the fatalities are children. Among the injured, women and children comprise half of all cases. In the Al-Shifa hospital, I have seen thousands of injured but only two of them were fighters.”

“It is the fourth time I was in Gaza during a war. Also in 2006, 2009 and 2012 I was there during the bombardments. Each time I was working in the Al-Shifa hospital, the largest of the Gaza Strip. What I have seen now is worse. There are more civilian casualties than before.”
“These are war crimes”
“We are scientists,” dr. Gilbert says, “and we live to tell the truth.” That doesn't stop the indignation from running deep, though. “Indiscriminately bombing civilian targets, it is something you would expect from ISIS or Boko Haram. But the Israeli army is one of the most modern armies in the world. In this case, there is no doubt: These are war crimes.”

He provides some more statistics to drive his point home: “Thirteen of the 15 hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been damaged by shelling. According to the World Health Organisation 20% of the bed capacity is out of use, just when more capacity is needed. Nine ambulances are damaged; 23 medical staff were hit and seven killed.”
The war has serious consequences for the entire health system, and it is not just about taking care of war injuries. “Since the end of June, the Al-Shifa hospital only provides emergency surgery. All routine interventions have been postponed. Most primary health care centres throughout the Gaza Strip are closed. This means there is no basic health care for 1,7 million people, including many patients with chronic ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases etc.”

The availability of medical supplies is critical. “Even before the war, there were shortages because of the blockade. The Al-Shifa hospital looks like a medical museum, even though it has very competent and dedicated medical staff that would be able to work in a university hospital. During our stay we haven't seen any significant amounts of medical supplies or medicines coming in. Although the Israeli will say there's no problem, supplies and medicines are hardly getting in. And whatever arrives is too little too late..”
More gruesome than in the media
Gilbert shows some pictures he has taken himself to show the true face of war. It is far more gruesome than what we see in the media. Meanwhile, he continues: “The reduced capacity at this very moment when more injured are in need of care, the breakdown of the supply chain and the hindrance of medical teams means that people's right to treatment is not respected. These facts actually meet my definition of genocide.”

Gilbert says Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu is responsible but so are U.S. President Obama and the European leaders. “Last night the death toll was at 1210 Palestinians, 287 of whom are children. Just imagine that Palestinian militants would have killed 1210 Israelis in 3 weeks. Do you think they would have let it happen? Of course not. And that is a good example why I call it a system of apartheid against the Palestinians.”
Just like in any other hospital in the Gaza Strip, the situation in Al-Shifa is dramatic. “When I left last Monday, we had 160 patients in the postoperative care unit. And every day more patients arrive who need intensive care. Sometimes we have to work with three surgical teams at the same time on one patient. Why is the 'international community' not bringing supplies and medicines to the hospital by helicopter? Why aren't they evacuating patients by air? Why do our governments accept the suffering of the Palestinians? I cannot understand.”

Not Israel vs. Hamas
But is this hospital not used as a headquarters by Hamas? At least, that's what we sometimes read in the media? “We stayed in the hospital day and night and were free to move around and talk to anyone. Never have we seen something suspicious. It is true that police is guarding the doors to ensure that patients can reach the emergency room in an orderly manner but never have I seen someone with a gun inside the hospital. Of course, the civilian Palestinian authorities do go there. Sometimes, the Minister of Health was there day and night to monitor the situation. But a military headquarters? If it's there, it must be hidden very well!”

Although he is allowed to call himself a honorary citizen of Palestine, dr. Gilbert thinks that the honour is for the Palestinian health workers. “I have never seen so much blood as in the past few weeks, but also never so much courage. The Palestinian medical staff is very competent and dedicated to the care for the thousands of injured”
For him, the unity of the Palestinians is a source of hope. “This is not about Israel against Hamas but it's a war against the Palestinian people. Gaza is united in resistance to the occupation and that makes them extremely resilient, in spite of the heavy blows they are dealing with today.”

In conclusion, he also shares his demands: “The bombing most stop immediately. Safety of civilians has to be guaranteed. Israel must lift the blockade and respect International Humanitarian Law. Finally, Palestinians should be given equal rights.”

Wim De Ceukelaire