On Mads Gilbert’s North American Tour

Dr. Mads Gilbert treating a wounded Palestinian child during Israel's December 2008 assault on Gaza.

During Israel’s assault on Gaza in December 2008, two doctors working from the frontline attempted to bring attention to the imbalance of power that exists at the heart of this conflict — an imbalance which weighs heavily towards the Israeli side.  While Israeli media spokespeople used airtime to argue that Israel was only targeting Hamas militants, Dr. Mads Gilbert and Dr. Erik Fosse of the Norwegian Aid Committee attempted to bring attention to just how many women and children were being wheeled in to be treated for shrapnel and bullet wounds, and how many families they were treating all at once.  They have since written a book about the event and Gilbert will be touring North America to spread their message. 

The following was written by Fatemah Meghji, the national co-ordinator of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and a university student who has been organizing a nation-wide tour for Gilbert.  Below her piece you will find a listing of tour dates and locations — be sure to attend an event if you can, I know I will. 

by Fatemah Meghji

From Dr. Mads Gilbert & Dr. Erik Fosse’s Eyes in Gaza:

The boy with the destroyed brain did not need anaesthetic; he could no longer feel anything. The other lay in an artificial coma with intravenous anaesthetic agents to soften the pain and allow the ventilator to work without resistance from the boy’s own breathing. A large bandage covered both his eyes. He could not see anyway. He was already blind. 

Where could I cry out the despair and rage I felt for all this terrible fate we saw at such close quarters? Would the heavens hear? Will the world hear? They know that this is happening, after all. The numbers tick into the West every single afternoon, to the news agencies, to the intelligence services and to the diplomatic missions of the world’s most powerful nations, who do not even make an attempt to pull in the reins and control the wildness of the Israeli war machine.

Images of horror and destruction from the massacre that ensued last winter found its way to the media. Videos, photos, and eyewitness accounts made it to the mainstream media despite the fact that the Gaza Strip was completely blocked off from any incoming or outgoing traffic — no matter what kind of journalist, aid worker, or person you were. Despite this, two doctors from NORWAC (Norweigan Aid Committee) were able to enter the Gaza Strip —  the only two foreign doctors allowed into the region throughout the entire operation. These two doctors are none other than Dr. Mads Gilbert & Dr. Erik Fosse who have recently co-authored a book, Eyes in Gaza, soon to be published in English.

Being the only two foreign doctors in the region, they became common faces. Seen on Al Jazeera, BBC, CBS, Fox News, Democracy Now, and CNN,  these doctors served not only as a lifeline for hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians in the overcrowded Al-Shifaa Hospital, but also as a Palestinian voice in a time where they were silenced and the ears of those outside the Gaza Strip were deafened. Accused of faking a hospital scene on CNN by an ardent and clearly desperate Zionist Lobby–even they had to rush to defend the internationally acclaimed doctor. Further, from the ground, before the likes of the Goldstone Report and others like it, Dr. Gilbert had made his position clear: over 90% of those he saw in the hospital killed were innocent civilians and there was no doubt that chemical weapons had been used–the likes of those which he had never seen before. 

Dr. Gilbert also stated that this was the most horrific and traumatizing experience he had gone through. This wouldn’t be surprising if he was just a regular doctor seeing warfare for the first time, but he’s not. Not only is he an internationally acclaimed doctor and recipient of dozens of awards, he has also volunteered in war zones including Beirut in 1982 and has seen some of the worst human-made conflicts over the past few decades. One might think that this much blood would dehumanize or at least desensitize him, but that’s not the case for Dr. Gilbert. It was Gaza that gave him nightmares. 

I remember reading about Dr. Gilbert on PULSE, Mondoweiss, and kabobfest from his US campus lecture tours early last year and I was particularly inspired. It’s people like Dr. Gilbert that give me hope that people do exist who are not selfish and self-centered, who have the spirit of self-sacrifice and who are prepared to speak out against injustice no matter what the cost. True dedication with a self-sacrificing nature is indeed rare to find. 

Dr. Gilbert has things to say that are worth hearing. Few eyewitnesses from Gaza have been able to leave as the region remains under a full blockade enforced both by Israel and its Egyptian counterpart. When reading the synopsis of the campus lectures posted I was inspired. Not just by him, but by his effort at making sure that his voice (and thus the voices of the Palestinians under seige) was also heard and so, I embarked on a virtual journey of my own: getting in contact with Dr. Gilbert and organizing a new nation-wide (Canadian) tour during the upcoming year on the one year anniversary of the massacre that left 1,400 Palestinians dead with thousands more severely injured. 

It was remarkably easy to get in touch with Dr. Gilbert, and one of the most pleasant experiences I have had to deal with. Through my correspondence with him over the past 6 months I have felt simultaneously overwhelmed and amazed. Not only did he agree to take three weeks off of his job in Norway, he has also refused to take a penny in honorariums for himself, saying that any money given to him would go to solidarity work for Palestine.  It was also remarkably easy to see his humble nature; he told me that he hates “bragging exposees” when I showed him our advertising call-out.   

Once organizing the tour kicked off,  it was hard to curb interest, and the tour just kept growing and growing and growing. I wasn’t expecting to organize a tour of more than 8 campuses, but we have 15 campuses now, reaching all of the major cities in Canada and 4 venues in the USA. I know that Dr. Gilbert’s presentations are going to be heartfelt and truthful and will portray a side of the conflict often shunned or dismissed, that is, the personal stories of the Palestinians in Gaza who were traumatized and left abandoned by the international community.  I hope that all readers will help make this tour a success and give a voice to the voiceless Palestinians who continue to suffer a life under siege and occupation. 

Dr. Mads Gilbert will be touring across North America beginning on January 18th, 2010. For more information on each of the venues listed below, please visit www.sphr.org. Entry is by donation (suggested $10), unless otherwise specified. 

For more information on the tour, please feel free to email Fatemah at fmeghji@interchange.ubc.ca 

Monday January 18th: Ontario, University of Ottawa, Fauteux Hall, Room 147B, 7pm 

Tuesday January 19th: Sudbury, Laurentian University, Room A-226 of Laurentian Arts Building, 6:30pm 

Wednesday January 20th: Toronto, Ryerson University, SCC 115 Ryerson Student Centre, 7pm 

Thursday January 21st: Kingston, Queen’s University, Stirling Hall Auditorium A, 64 Queens Crescent, 7pm 

Friday January 22nd: Hamilton, McMaster University, Togo Salmon Hall Room B106, 1200 Main Street West, 5:30pm 

Monday January 25th: Waterloo University, Room TBA, 7pm 

Tuesday January 26th: Calgary, University of Calgary, Room TBA, 7pm (Tickets: $10) 

Wednesday January 27th: Edmonton, University of Alberta ETLC Room 1007, 6:30pm 

Thursday January 28th: Victoria, University of Victoria, Room TBA, 7pm 

Friday January 29th: Vancouver, University of British Columbia, WOOD 2, 6:30pm (Tickets: $10) 

Monday February 1st: Chicago, Benedictine University, Krasa A, B, 7pm 

Tuesday February 2nd: Chicago, DePaul University, Room TBA, 7pm 

Wednesday February 3rd: New York, Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street, NY, NY 10027, Room 1501 in the International Affairs Building (IAB), 7pm 

Thursday February 4th: New Jersey, Princeton University, Room TBA, 4:30pm 

Friday February 5th: Montreal, McGill University, Room TBA, 7pm (Tickets: $10)

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