Israel and its supporters are always keen to assert two points to the international community when defending the reputation of the Zionist state. First, they like to boast that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Second, since the unilateral withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 they insist that Israel is no longer an occupying power controlling the lives of the almost two million Palestinians who live there.
Both these claims are blatant lies and were exposed earlier this week by Israel’s words and deeds. The latter included the banning from Gaza of heroic Norwegian surgeon Dr Mads Gilbert, who has toiled around the clock in Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital during a number of Israel’s military assaults, including this summer’s war when the Strip was blitzed daily by the unrelenting Zionist “defence” forces. Many Palestinian men, women and children owe their lives to his dedication.
On this occasion the lies came tumbling out of the mouth of Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson, who attempted some character assassination by asserting that Dr Gilbert is “not on the side of decency and peace.” Speaking to the Independent’s Jerusalem correspondent, he added: “He’s got a horrible track record. I wouldn’t be surprised if his acquaintances are among the worst people in the world.”
In short, though, Dr Mads Gilbert has been banned from Palestinian land because he exercised his right to free speech. Isn’t free speech a trademark of the kind of democracy that Israel claims to be? If the Zionist state cannot take constructive criticism from a man whose only crime is that he cares about saving lives, then how can it call itself a fully-fledged democracy? The democracy alongside Israel is called Gaza and the West Bank; the voters there, particularly in the Gaza Strip, have been punished collectively for the past 8 years simply for exercising their own democratic right to choose a leadership not to the liking of Tel Aviv.
If Israel really is no longer an occupying power in Gaza (and international law says that it is, a fact disputed by Israel), then by what right does it have to “ban” the trauma surgeon from continuing his life-saving work in the coastal territory? Dr Gilbert was blocked from trying to enter Palestinian land via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing for “security reasons”. It is hard to believe this great humanitarian is a threat to the national security of Israel, a state swamped by paranoia and apparently devoid of compassion for anyone, least of all its neighbours in Gaza.
“This is not about me,” said Gilbert. “This is about Israel denying the Palestinian people in Gaza international support. To deny professionals from the medical field the right to go to Gaza is another aspect of the collective punishment. They’re exercising the siege in an increasingly harsh and brutal way.”
The Norwegian government has raised the issue with Israel. Other European allies of the Zionist state have been urged to do the same.
It is true that Mads Gilbert has been an outspoken critic of Israel. However, he is a man who risked his life daily to save the lives of Palestinians; a man who endured much of the 50-day bombardment of the territory by Israel’s army, air force and navy; a man whose criticism comes from first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be at the heart of the war zone hell created by the Israeli military. His voice should be heard and listened to.
He has accused Israel of “state terrorism at the highest levels”; his harrowing and graphic accounts of the emergency room in Al-Shifa have moved many to tears, anger and outrage. In one despatch he wrote: “We still have lakes of blood on the floor in the emergency room, piles of dripping blood-soaked bandages to clear out. The cleaners, everywhere, swiftly shovelling the blood and discarded tissues, hair, clothes, cannulas, the leftovers from death – all taken away to be prepared again to be repeated all over.”
After the war he travelled across Europe, including Britain, giving his eyewitness account of what was going on in Gaza during the Israeli blitz. It is not difficult to imagine Israeli officials in Tel Aviv and their supporters overseas squirming as the details of the injuries inflicted on innocent civilians by Israeli munitions were made public by the Norwegian surgeon. These were not the words of a seasoned pro-Palestine activist but the testimony of a doctor who knows the true value of a single life regardless of faith, race or culture.
If Israel is a real democracy it should not fear freedom of speech, no matter how critical it might be. If it is not an occupying power, as it claims, then it should open up the borders to allow Dr Mads Gilbert and other humanitarians to enter the Gaza Strip when their only objective is to save lives. Which truly compassionate human being can deny them that opportunity?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.