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Saving Lives in Gaza

On US tour, Norwegian Dr. Mads Fredrik Gilbert talked about his recent work saving peoples’ lives in Al-Shifa Hospital, located in Gaza City, Gaza, during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. The bombardment began December 27, 2008 and continued throughout most of January 2009.

His first lecture was at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel in Hyde Park; and it was sponsored by: Amnesty International, Global Health Initiative; Committee on International Affairs in Public Policy; Students for Justice in Palestine; American Friends Service Committee – Chicago; and American Muslims for Palestine-National.

Gilbert’s perspective on the health and humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians comes not only from his recent experiences during Israel’s latest assault; but his many years of solidarity work in the region. He published his experiences in The Lancet. Americans should hear his investigative presentation, based on information from various news sources and eyewitness accounts. Part of the presentation involves actual recordings of gunfire, bombs and Israeli drones flying over Gaza during the attack.

As Gilbert explained, on December 27, 2008, around 11:30 AM Israeli Forces dropped 100 bombs on Gaza. In those four minutes almost 250 Palestinians were killed.

After 23 days of war on Gaza, an estimated 1500 Palestinians were killed and 5300 were injured. As Gilbert further explained there were 300-400 traumatic and stillbirths also. On the Israeli side, 13 people were killed – three civilians and ten soldiers (the majority of the soldiers killed a result of friendly fire). Finally, around 518 Israelis wounded.

Question for the White House: do you think about the peoples on the receiving end?

Since the White House has last-minute guests fro special events; including a pizza party just a few weeks ago; perhaps the Obama Administration can arrange to hear a 90-minute lecture from Gilbert about the health and humanitarian impact of Palestinians as a result of US-aid and military arms sales to Israel.

Photos from Gilbert’s presentation could be an exhibit on the White House lawn. Pictures of injured Palestinian children, who suffer from burns caused by chemical weapons, including Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs and white phosphorous shells would attract US-media coverage of the Palestinian reality. Photos of children shot and who are now paraplegic would raise questions about US-applications of foreign policy against Arabs in the Middle East. The message – whether military, political, chemical, or immoral – would certainly raise enough eyebrows in a good morning America.

Exactly, what crime did the Palestinians commit? Why do 1.5 human beings, who live on a strip of land 45 km long and 5 – 12 km wide; who have no where to flee; why does the world stand by while Israeli Forces block the border crossings and drop bombs on them?

Toward the end of Gilbert’s presentation, he showed photos of t-shirts worn by an Israeli soldier. The first t-shirt was olive green and in Hebrew it said: “No matter how it begins we will put an end to it.” The t-shirt had a target over a Palestinian youth. One can conclude the t-shirt illustrates the attitudes the Israeli soldiers are expected to have toward Palestinians.

The second t-shirt was black and an Israeli soldier wore it also. In Hebrew it said: “One shot, two kills.” On the t-shirt was a picture of a pregnant, Palestinian woman, who wore black, Islamic dress.

“On December 27, 2008, my choice was to go to Gaza,” Gilbert said. “I think the occupation of Palestine is unjust…I have been working in Palestine since 1981…when my friends are in a dire situation, I want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends.”

According to Gilbert, he is not anti-Israeli. He has many, Jewish friends. Gilbert approaches the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians from the humanitarian and medical perspectives. He wants people to understand why he does relief missions in Gaza, as well as what he saw and heard in the twelve days he worked in the hospital during the invasion.

Despite long hours, hundreds of victims, broken windows, sporadic fuel and power outages, limited water, confined operating spaces (including hallways), running-on-empty medical supplies; Gilbert managed to give 20-25 media interviews every day throughout his stay. “We never left a patient to give an interview,” he added.

Media Coverage – Who Talks about the Holy Land in Front of the Camera

Despite the fact there are an estimated 600 journalists in Gaza, and Israeli Forces banned Western/foreign media from entering the Strip during the invasion; many Western news outlets did not acknowledge the hundreds of journalists living in the Strip. They are Palestinian and Arab.

When I watched coverage of the invasion on Al-Jazeera, all the journalists spoke perfect English. Numerous, Western media outlets looked to the Norwegian doctors working at Al-Shifa to give interviews. Why? Could it be because they have light skin and light eyes?

Mama, Mama

“Mama, mama, mama,” whispered Samar, a four-year-old girl, Gilbert recalled. “I will never forget her whispers for her mama.” He showed a photo of the opening in Samar’s back: it went into her spinal cord. The shrapnel injury paralyzed her from the waist-down. Samar was patient and she did not cry.

After extensive, news research, which is the basis for the facts and figures of Gilbert’s presentation, a BBC story by journalist Christian Fraser explains that Samar was shot at close range. In Jabaliya, while her grandmother waved a white flag, an Israeli soldier came out of his tank and fired his automatic M16 rifle. Samar’s grandmother was injured and two of Samar’s sisters – Amal, two years-old and Souad, seven years-old – were shot dead. While this was happening, two of the Israeli soldiers at the scene of the crime were eating chocolate and chips.

The Message

“My main message is that this situation needs a political solution, not a military solution,” Gilbert said. “I think the whole population of Gaza is traumatized and is suffering.”

Later on he explained that the collective punishment of the population continues today because Israeli blockage prevents construction materials and goods, such as cement, paper, pencils, and various foods, from entering the Strip.

No one, including the NGOs, such as Save the Children, is allowed to cooperate with the Hamas Government. For example, a Palestinian teacher trained in psychosocial work, risks arrest. Hence, there is no rehabilitation of the people or reconstruction of Gaza’s infrastructure.

Finally, Gilbert’s presentation signifies greater ramifications for the region. How does the US Government and Israel expect to bring peace and stability to the region if their strategies and tactics harm the Palestinians, Israelis and the Arab peoples surrounding them? Palestinians are crushed by occupation; the militarization of Israel erodes Israeli society and the occupations of Palestinians and Iraqis creates more conflicts in the region.

Even the major, power countries – the commercial and economic capitals of the region – will have to face the militarization that exists in the Middle East. Authentic, long-term normalization between Israelis and all of her neighbors will happen when relations between these countries and the West are based on peace, fairness, justice, and equality.

The children of the Middle East have rights to safety, security and a future.

SONIA NETTNIN is a journalist who writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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