Interview with Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert

"Nobody is safe in Gaza"

Professor of Medicine at the University of Tromso, Norway, Mads Gilbert is currently working at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. He has been volunteering in Gaza on and off for the last 17 years and recently submitted a report to the UN on the state of the health sector in Gaza. In this interview with Roma Rajpal Weiss, Gilbert describes the present situation at the hospital and in Gaza

Dr. Gilbert, what is the situation like at the moment?

Mads Gilbert: The Israeli attack forces are bombarding all parts of the Gaza strip very intensely, and it seems like there is no end to what they are targeting. Today they targeted hospitals. They are continuing their killing spree of civilians. There is limited mobility; people cannot go out on the streets because they risk being hit by rockets from the planes, which are hanging in the air all the time and the F16 jets that are roaring in the sky. There has been heavy naval shooting tonight from the Israeli warships that have taken position just off the coast. They have shot at residential areas; it's like thunder all the time.

What is the situation at al-Shifa Hospital, where you work?

Gilbert: At regular intervals, we have paramedics coming in with new loads of injured and killed. It's a steady stream now: 695 have been killed, among them 166 Palestinian children, and 4,990 have been injured, including 1,310 Palestinian children. These numbers are reflected in Shifa. Not every one of these patients comes to Shifa because there are other hospitals. But due to the destruction of several hospitals like the Aqsa Hospital yesterday, the total hospital capacity in Gaza is reduced. So the load on Shifa is increasing tremendously.

As I sit here, I watch the dark sky, because the Israelis also bombed the central power plant that produces electricity. Before that, only 40 per cent of the need for electricity in Gaza was covered, and with the bombing today of the central power plant, it will be even more difficult. Shifa Hospital is lit up with generators, which frequently stop. Everything stops: fans, operating room lamps, Internet connections ... everything goes down and then it starts again.

We hear the bombardments and detonations and the roaring planes and rocket attacks coming in quite close to the hospital, every now and then, we hear the outgoing rockets from Gaza. It's a war, and we are in the middle of it.

Palestinian volunteers at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza lift a body bag (photo: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian volunteers at Gaza City's al-Shifa Hospital lift a body bag containing the remains of children after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City killed 11 people, including five children on 21 July 2014, the bloodiest day in the Palestinian enclave since 2009

The hospital is crowded with internal refugees, the Israeli forces are bombing the habitats of these people. From day to day it varies, and the scenes in the hospital are grim. Right now I am watching the entrance of the hospital, probably the most filmed emergency ward in the world: there are two ambulances with red lights, a wave of new people coming in with new patients, and large number of television cameras.

The parking compound in front of the entrance is filled with relatives who have nowhere to go because whole blocks and villages have been bombed. It is a combination of these sounds and the sights of war.

How are supplies being affected?

Gilbert: Like the rest of Gaza, this hospital has been under siege for seven years. Supply lines are weak and one problem for the whole public sector in Gaza is that the economy of Gaza has gone totally broke. Following the siege, there were these tunnels to Egypt that have been closed – more than 1,000 tunnels, which were really the lifeline for normal life in Gaza. They provided fuel, chickens and donkeys, cars and whatever you needed in Gaza to survive. When the Egyptians closed the tunnels, fuel prices quadrupled. They increased by 400 per cent, and that has basically destroyed everything.

What kind of injuries are you currently treating?

Gilbert: The injuries are extensive and they demand a huge effort if you want the injured to survive. Of course we have patients with some scratches and superficial wounds, but they are not even being admitted to the hospital.

Those who are admitted and those who are being operated on are extremely complicated cases because the armour that the Israelis are using, to put it cynically, is top of the line of modern killing instruments developed by the Israeli army and their universities and the US Army and their universities.

Even a small rocket fired causes very powerful explosive injuries that rip off legs and arms. Buildings are collapsing so there are crush injuries like fractures and skull injuries.

The artillery shells shot from tanks cause monstrous injuries. The shrapnel from the artillery can travel many hundred metres and they are as sharp as razor blades. They can cut off your neck, they can penetrate your brain, chest or abdomen and cause bleedings. This afternoon we tried to save a man with hundreds of bits of shrapnel that had penetrated his body. He bled to death before he reached the hospital; he was beyond reach so we didn't take him to the operating room. We had to terminate the treatment in the emergency room.

Man receiving treatment at al-Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, 18 July 2014 (photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
A wounded man receives treatment at al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City, on 18 July 2014. Israeli tank fire killed four Palestinians in two separate attacks, medics said, as Israel launched a ground offensive in an operation to stamp out militant rocket fire

Yesterday, a young man came in with shrapnel that had gone through his jaw. His jaw was smashed and the shrapnel was in his neck on the other side. It needed surgical intervention by a team of neuro-, plastic and orthopaedic surgeons trying to fix this extremely damaging injury. We only have six operating rooms, and that is not enough to cope with the wave of injured people coming in.

How is the staff coping?

Gilbert: In the midst of all this, Palestinians are standing tall. They are well behaved and friendly; they are maintaining the culture as they have always done and working extremely hard in the hospital to help all the injured people who have survived.

Most members of the staff here at the hospital have not been paid. They have received no salaries for the last four months. Before that, for eight months, they were being paid only 50 per cent of their salaries. But the doctors, the nurses, the paramedics and the staff continue to show to up for work; they have worked around the clock for more than 16 days, trying to save as many lives as possible. They sleep in the hospital, and many of them have had their houses bombed, and family members have been injured and even killed.

The night of the Shujayea massacre, three of the doctors that work here got phone calls from their families saying that their homes were being bombed and destroyed. Yet, they did not leave their cause. The war is affecting everyone, and yet everybody continues to work.

Do you think al-Shifa Hospital is safe for the moment?

Gilbert: You have to ask the Israeli government and the Israeli war cabinet about that. We don't know; they don't tell you when they hit you. They don't tell you before they hit an ambulance. Israel is actually executing systematic state terror. And there is no excuse because there should be political options on the table. There should have been a political discussion about how enemies can find ways to handle the situation without killing. Do we feel safe in the hospital with these armies, with the Air Force, the navy around us all the time, when we see the shelled bodies, the broken bones of the children? No! Nothing is safe in Gaza; nobody is safe in Gaza. But we are not giving into pressure.

Damage sustained by al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on 21 July 2014 (photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian employee inspects damage to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, after the building was shelled by the Israeli army on 21 July 2014, killing five people and wounding at least 70

What keeps you going in such difficult times?

Gilbert: What also keeps me going is the enormous inspiration that I get from the Palestinian people, in Shifa. The patients, the relatives, everyone I meet here has the quiet dignity where they believe that they have a just cause and have the right to stay here and be treated like humans and not like animals. It is their dignity in these dark times that moves me. I am with them in that. I see the patients coming in, they are civilians, and knowing this, if I turn my back on them, I would be part of the problem, I would be part of the ignorance or the brutality.

These days, the heart of the earth is in Gaza, because here it is covered with blood and it continues beating. It shows humanity and shows that it's not easy to break people. I support the Palestinian people and their right to oppose occupation and siege and it keeps me going.

What do you urgently need from the world right now?

Gilbert: We need solidarity. We need people to stop looking away and to stop turning their backs on Gaza. Two days back, a German family was killed here. I want to know what Mrs Merkel has to say about that. To me, solidarity is one of the key political powers in our world today, and it is often overlooked. We have to share responsibility with the world, we can't just turn our backs. It's important the Palestinian people know that they are not left alone; this way they don't feel forgotten.

Interview conducted by Roma Rajpal Weiss

© Qantara.de 2014

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de

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Comments for this article: "Nobody is safe in Gaza"

oh. my god. help to people of Gaza

mojtaba26.07.2014 | 23:16 Uhr