On Wednesday, SPHR-Ryerson hosted Dr. Mads Gilbert, MD, PhD for his presentation, “Eye in Gaza”. Dr. Mads Gilbert is an internationally-acclaimed doctor, professor, local politician, and Head of the Dept. of Emergency at the University of North Norway. During the 3-week brutal assault on Gaza last year, Dr. Mads Gilbert and his colleague Dr. Erik Fosse were the only two foreign doctors allowed into the region. They spent their entire time there embedded in the overcrowded and understaffed Al-Shifaa hospital. Dr. Mads Gilbert became the world’s window into the prison known as Gaza, providing regular updates on the atrocities taking place there. He has been seen on Al-Jazeera, BBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and more.
Dr. Mads Gilbert has described his time in the region as the most horrific and terrible thing he had ever witnessed. He co-authored the book “Eyes in Gaza” with his colleague, Dr. Erik Fosse, and embarked on a 16-campus North American tour in January and February of 2010. Here in Toronto, he spoke at Ryerson University to a packed room of eagerly attentive eyes and ears.
He began by introducing himself and giving us some background on his history, qualifications, and professional life. He’s a very interesting man; having spent over 30 years doing solidarity work with Palestinians, he has served as a doctor during numerous periods in Occupied Palestine and Lebanon. He is also quite a controversial figure in the medical profession due to his strong position on merging medical and political issues. On being a doctor as well as a politician, Gilbert has said the two roles are indistinguishable, and that “there is little in medicine that isn’t politics”.
Gilbert’s presentation was unlike any I’ve ever seen either on the Gaza assault in particular, or on Palestine in general. He warned us beforehand of the graphic images he would be displaying; but unlike other presentations where graphic images are used purely for shock value, Dr. Gilbert uses them to tell a story, making sure to provide us with background on the victims’ lives, “introducing” us to them, giving them a name and human value. This took away the shock value; all eyes were glued on the screen, no matter how horrific or appalling the scenes. These were people, young and old, with lives, families, futures, aspirations…All taken away in an instant, most times at the simple press of a button.
However, this presentation was not just another “horrible scenes of war” lecture. Gilbert’s political activism was clearly woven into his entire talk; never dismissing an opportunity to clarify his stance on the Palestine/Israel issue. At times, his words were shocking; not because of what he said, but because I’ve never heard a medical professional speak his mind so freely about anything political, let alone a topic as controversial (and for some, career-ending) as that of Palestine. It was quite refreshing to say the least.
He ended his presentation with a message to all of us to get involved with Palestine, and particularly to drive the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement to the forefront of the struggle for Palestinian liberation. This was exciting to hear because that is exactly the direction we are moving with regards to the newly-drafted Cairo Declaration which came out of our time in Cairo with the Gaza Freedom March. We will be contacting him with information on this, and asking for his endorsement in the near future.
Of course, no discussion on Palestine or Gaza is complete without some good old-fashioned debate (if you can call it that) in the audience. During the Q&A session, which was still surprisingly civil, an Israeli IDF medical professional who was deployed to the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead stood up and voiced his dissatisfaction and frustration with many of the statements Dr. Gilbert expressed during his lecture, especially in regards to Israeli doctors during the assault. Gilbert was shedding light on the discrimination that takes place in Israeli hospitals when doctors give preference to Israeli patients over Palestinians, but the IDF doctor took it personally and insisted that he always did his duty on the ground and treated all casualties as is morally required of any medical professional.
When someone brought up the fact that those “casualties” need not exist in the first place and raised the issue of the blatantly disproportionate figures, including civilian casualties, this IDF doctor’s response was that, “there’s always a large difference between Israeli and Palestinian deaths” during wars and the numbers are usually at least 100 to 1. I don’t need to tell you what happened after that, but let’s just say that after the talk was over, our little IDF friend was bombarded with questions, arguments, and debates for probably another 30-40 minutes. I didn’t stay and watch…
All in all, it was the best lecture/presentation I’ve seen in a very long time and I can’t stop telling people to go see it if he’s coming to a city near you. Most locations are across Canada, but Chicago, New York, and New Jersey are also hosting him in the coming weeks. For more information on dates and locations, visit: SPHR’s Event Page.