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Criminalising medics who help Palestinians

November 12, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Helping Palestinians in Gaza is not officially a crime; not yet, anyway, but the reaction of the British government and pro-Israel lobby towards those who use their medical skills to try and save Palestinian lives is disturbing.

Earlier this week the government refused to give visas to a group of Palestinian medical experts from Gaza which would have allowed them to participate in an international conference on trauma in war zones. Three doctors and a nurse who work for the Ministry of Health in Gaza were effectively banned from attending the conference at Kingston University just outside London in a move which has been condemned by campaigners. Sponsored by the World Health Organisation, the four were due to give presentations at the conference taking place this weekend until their visa requests were blocked by the British government.

A letter by the UK Palestine Mental Health Network, co-organisers of the conference, published in the Independent, says: “It is beyond our comprehension how such an interference with intellectual and clinical discussion on such an important topic could be justified. This is a measure that further isolates clinicians from Gaza, already struggling under the impact of military assaults and siege.”

Meanwhile in America, a Norwegian surgeon with international accolades and ringing endorsements from royalty to politicians for his work in Gaza, has been given a rough reception by pro-Israel supporters. Dr Mads Gilbert needs little introduction among Palestinians or human rights groups. He has risked his life trying to save others during Israel’s repeated brutal assaults against the civilians of Gaza and he is regarded in some circles as a living legend. As a medical man of such high regard you’d think his reputation would be untouchable, but while he has received international awards and recognition for his surgical skills and humanitarian dedication, there are those who wish him nothing but ill.

What’s his crime? The good doctor wants to save lives and improve peoples’ health, and that includes Palestinian patients. In his eyes, human rights and medical treatment should be available to everyone, equally. Trying, sometimes in vain, to save the lives of Palestinian children and their parents is a noble effort but there are those in the world who clearly have no regard for the Hippocratic Oath or the obligation of medics who follow it.

Those who would like to see Dr Mads Gilbert stripped of accolades and treated as a pariah include supporters of Israel who regard his compassion towards Palestinians as a crime. Just a few days ago they tried to stop the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA from giving a platform to the doctor who they accuse of “hate speech”.

Robert Trestan, Director of the Anti-Defamation League in Boston, told local journalists: “Mads Gilbert is someone who exploits medicine to promote hate and support violence. It’s important for [MIT] as an institution to make it clear that they don’t support violence or the views of Gilbert.”

Trestan was disappointed; not only did the event go ahead but it was sold out and, indeed, over-subscribed. Promoted by Palestine@MIT and the university’s Arab Students Organisation early this week, the programme was planned “to discuss the Palestinian struggle under Israeli occupation”.

Dr Gilbert has published a book recently on his experiences during Israel’s 51-day war waged on Gaza last year and it is that which has excited his enemies in the pro-Israel lobby. His uncompromising language and powerful eyewitness testimony is difficult to challenge so, naturally, it has outraged Zionists around the world. They can’t contest the facts, so they try to damage his reputation instead. It’s standard Zionist practice.

Mads Gilbert is heading for Scotland towards the end of this month where he is being hosted by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign to talk about the book, Night in Gaza. The content is drawn from his experiences, some of which he recalled in Middle East Monitorvia an open letter which was read by hundreds of thousands of people. The tour, which starts in Glasgow, is called “Bandages and Boycotts” and is also expected to draw criticism from the pro-Israel lobby.

It seems that healing the sick has suddenly become a controversial and precarious occupation, but only if the patients are Palestinians. Pro-Israel lobbyists should be ashamed of themselves.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.