Western doctor recounts time in Gaza during Israeli offensive 0

I wrote an article a little while back for my school paper covering a talk I attended featuring Dr. Mads Gilbert, one of the only Western doctors allowed into Gaza during the war there in 08/09.  It was a riveting talk, and I meant to share the article with you sooner, but hey, better late than never.

Here it is:

One night, during Israel’s offensive in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, Dr. Mads Gilbert turned to his colleague, Dr. Hameed, at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. For hours they’d been working non-stop to care for the countless war-wounded, performing surgeries and amputations on predominantly young Palestinians.

"How can this go on?" asked an exhausted Dr. Gilbert. There had been no news of foreign aid, and countless civilians continued to rush into the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The doctor had been deeply affected by the plight of the wounded Palestinians.

Dr. Hameed replied immediately. "We have no human rights."

In a 90-minute lecture at the end of January at Ryerson University, Dr. Gilbert, one of just two foreign doctors allowed into Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, transports a crowd of eager attendees into Al-Shifa hospital, right into the middle of the war.

The doctor presents dozens of photos of the war-wounded Palestinians who sought aid at the health care centre. The photos are horribly gruesome. Legs are blown apart, bones pop out from underneath broken flesh, young faces are bloodied and miserable.

Members of the audience can barely look. A man in the first row turns away every time a photo is shown. He wears an expression of pain. A woman in the third row is weeping. She is of Palestinian descent, but she never looks away.

Dr. Gilbert describes how hard it was to help those Gazans in dire need. "There was no electricity," he explains. "The hospital ran on two unreliable generators because Israel shut the area’s power off. Sometimes doctors operated with the lights from their mobile phones."

Dr. Gilbert describes one particular patient’s case in detail. "This is Joumana Samoni, a four-month-old baby," says the doctor, as he presents a photo of a beautiful young girl with only two fingers on one hand. "Her hand was injured and three of her fingers were amputated."

Samoni was forcefully ejected, along with her family, from her home by Israeli forces in Gaza. Her father, grandmother and grandfather were all killed. Her mother went missing. Samoni came to the hospital alone, but was eventually reunited with her mother.

Dr. Gilbert also presents many statistics and graphs. He tells the audience, now queasy from the photos, that for every dead Israeli, 100 Palestinians were killed. Of the approximately 1400 dead Palestinians, 431 were children. "And 85 to 90 per cent of those killed were civilians. More than 5000 were injured…more than 20,000 were left homeless," he says.

The doctor paints a grim picture of life in Gaza. He takes no credit for the work he and his colleague, Dr. Erik Fosse, did as physicians there during the war. "We are no heroes. The heroes are still in Gaza."

This article appeared in the Ryerson Free Press’s February issue.