Dr. Mads Gilbert, professor of medicine at the University of North Norway
“You are being lied to. Your media does not tell the realities on the ground,” states Dr. Mads Gilbert, flatly. “It's not shown in a truly journalistic and investigative way. Where is your tax money going to? What is it used for with regards to the oppression of the Palestinian people?”
Gilbert, a professor of medicine at the University of North Norway, provided medical support in Gaza during Israel’s three-week assault in December 2008 and January 2009. He has seen every single horrible thing — dying children, bloody bodies, and amputated limbs — that nobody wants you to see. He has been around a largely young Palestinian population being exposed not only to a siege but also repeated military attacks from drones, airplanes and Apache helicopters.
Gilbert was in town April 12 to share slides and speak about those experiences that he wrote about in his book "Eyes in Gaza" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus as part of his national tour.
“I want to give the audience a more realistic impression of what modern warfare actually means,” Gilbert tells The Madison Times in an interview at Ground Zero Coffeshop. “You hear it on the news every day about some sort of 'military action' or the bombing of Libya and people have a very vague feeling about what types of injuries and sufferings go on with the civilians in warfare.”
A little Palestinian girl whom Dr. Gilbert treated. She is on the cover of his book.
Dr. Gilbert is a member of a Norwegian triage medical team present in the besieged Gaza Strip that spent several weeks under fire during Israel’s 2009 bombardment of Gaza at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. He helped to save the lives of hundreds of victims and pleaded with the world via the international media to stop the killing.
“My duty as a doctor is to try and improve the living conditions for the patients that I treat and the populations that I'm responsible for,” says Gilbert, who specializes in anesthesiology and emergency medicine. “Back in Norway, I'm very actively engaged in preventive medical work when it comes to traffic accidents, snow avalanches, and so on. When you travel to Gaza and see that 100 percent of those needing medical care because of bombing, then you have to work against the bombing. You have to say to the international community that we need to stop this bombing instead of saying, 'We need more blankets or more field hospitals or more doctors.'”
But there is too much misinformation out there. Or, more accurately, Gilbert contends, no information out there. Israel barred journalists and other humanitarian workers from entering Gaza. He and his “Eyes on Gaza” co-author Dr. Erik Fosse were only allowed in thanks to strong support from the Norwegian government and help from Egypt. Their mobile phones were jammed, but they still had contact with the outside world through a Palestinian Ramattan News Agency satellite link car. The two doctors gave 15 to 20 interviews every day.
“I believe that if the good United States people knew what was going on and knew what the state of Israel is doing to the Palestinian people, and knew what kind of measures and terror that they inflict systematically all over... I believe then the American people would say, 'No way that we would allow our tax money to go to support the state with such a bad record on human rights, basic justice, and basic equality issues,'” Gilbert says.“So, you're being deceived. You're being lied to. The Zionist lobby in the U.S. has a grip on the Congress and your president that makes them look like chained chickens.
“It's a deeply troubling moral issue and I trust the American people to be a moral people,” Gilbert adds. “After all, it was the U.S. opinion that stopped the Vietnam War through their actions once they got to know what was really happening. The media was reporting independently and not in an embedded way. The American people have lost the independent press that shows the realities and what are the consequences of our foreign policy and where our tax money is going.”
Beyond the obvious moral argument, Gilbert says, these policies are just very costly.
“One [Palestinian] grandfather who lost quite a bit during the last Israeli attack, when I asked him, 'What should I tell the American people next time I go there on a speaking tour?' He said, 'Tell them, ‘Your tax money is killing us. Period. That's all you need to tell them,'” Gilbert says.
Half of the population in Palestine are below 15 years and 80 percent of the people in Gaza live below the level of poverty defined by the UN.
“They need strong voices to convey to the world what are the realities on the ground, what are the effects of the Israeli illegal occupation, what are the effects of the type of collective punishment that the Israeli government is inflicting as we are speaking on the whole Palestinian population,” Gilbert says.
Gilbert and the medical workers and patients in Shifa Hospital, along with the million and a half residents of Gaza, heard the drones and bombs night and day, around the clock, for 22 days. What really happened during Operation Cast Lead is what the world needed to know. “This is precisely a condensed version of what the occupation of Palestine and what the Israeli atrocities are all about,” Gilbert says of “Eyes on Gaza.”
“All Americans should read the book because it's telling you the story of the reality of the Palestinian people in Gaza,” Gilbert adds. “Dr. Eric and I felt obliged to write the book after we had been in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead because we seemed to be the only westerners who were actually on the front lines. Part of the Israeli tactic was to draw the curtain on Gaza and to deny access for international humanitarian groups and, more importantly, for the international media. We came into the unique opportunity to be able to report from the front line to the international media and we gave between 15 and 20 interviews every day.”
Gilbert remembers growing up in Norway and not liking the Palestinians. “I was brought up to believe that Israel was the chosen land and were attacked by the lazy Arabs,” he says. “That's how it was in Norway.”
His younger sister, who was also a medical student, took him down a different path and began to tell him the other side of the story. Gilbert would go on to work in an underground Palestinian refugee camp hospital in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion and bombardment of Lebanon. For more than 20 years he has visited Gaza to work and teach medicine. He and Dr. Fosse were two of only a small handful of westerners in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and both would testify as expert witnesses at subsequent Human Rights Committee Sessions held at the United Nations in Geneva after the attack.
It is pointed out to Gilbert that he could easily be living out the rest of his life as a comfortable family doctor in very pleasant and peaceful suburban Norway. That is not in the plans.
“I can't sit by and watch this happen. My hope is to send a very clear message to the Palestinian people that they are not alone,” he says. “We are standing by them. In dire situations we will come and they will not be left alone. I want to encourage and support and strengthen the resistance compacity of the Palestinian people not to shoot rockets or throw bombs, but to support their willingness to uphold their struggle for independence and a dignified solution for the Palestinian people.
“I want to change the Norwegian public opinion on this topic and through that change the Norwegian government,” Gilbert continues. “That's my main duty whether it be through writing a book, giving speeches or lectures or being an activist in the solidarity movement. Through that, [I want to] redirect Norwegian foreign policy and through that increase pressure on the state of Israel and the U.S. foreign policy and through that change the direction of the Supertanker one millimeter to the left towards justice and towards fair political solutions for both the Palestinian and Israeli people.
“Each one of us can do something instead of feeling helpless and feeling powerless,” he adds. “Each of us can take a stance.”