The ban on Gilbert is an insult to humanity

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Mads Gilbert at Shifa hospital (AFP)
By banning Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor, from Gaza, Israel is ridiculing itself.

I first met Dr Mads Gilbert in November 2011, almost exactly three years ago. I was a medical student in my 4th year at the time, and I had just begun clinical training. Dr. Mads was on a visit to the Gaza Strip, one of many to Gaza and the West Bank he undertakes regularly to tutor medical students and doctors on how to deal with trauma and cope with the stress of war. I remember his lectern was on the left side of the hall. My seat was on the far right. At the time, I had not heard of the man, and while he was preparing his slideshow, a friend and I tried to guess his age. We were shocked that he was in his seventh decade; whatever toll the years had exacted on his body, he compensated for in enthusiasm and spirit.

He came back to help during the second Israeli assault on Gaza in 2010 and stayed for the duration of the last assault this summer. I met him then in June, two weeks that assault started. It took me a few seconds to recall his face and name, enough for him to preempt me. “I recognize you. You are the guy in the photo,” he told me, referring to a selfie we shared back in 2011, long before selfies became “cool”. I used the opportunity to ask him to tell my friends a story I remembered him telling during that long lecture in Gaza. Mustafa was a Palestinian child who lost his mother and his right arm to an Israeli bomb during the siege of Beirut. Dr. Mads helped the boy for few days, but as soon as he was able to stand, Mustafa started helping his doctor taking care of other victims. A special bond was established. Thirty years later he still remembers the boy, but he has lost touch. He still uses visits to Lebanon to look for Mustafa, he even prints his photo and distributes copies to anyone who might have once known the boy.

When the war on Gaza erupted in July, Dr. Mads was at Shifa hospital; he was a medic, a doctor, an anaesthesiologist, an activist, a promoter of human rights and a human being. When all ventilators were busy, he manually helped a seriously injured child breathe for more than 15 minutes. There was no complaint. When a girl who had just lost several family members collapsed, he stayed by her side until she was back on her feet. And when twin sisters were injured by artillery shrapnel he personally made sure their wounds were neatly stitched and all the metal removed.

He was compassionate and sympathetic. And he hated pain; he always carried syringes filled with Ketamine – a sedative/anaesthetic – for emergencies. During Ramadan he fasted with us. He didn’t have to, but he did so out of respect. When the flow of injuries was light he would use the time to conduct interviews, or tutor medical staff on ways to conserve already short medical supplies. Human rights were his focus. Politics didn’t matter to him; what mattered were people.

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The eighth night of the war was busy. We couldn’t take a break until two am. We drank coffee together and shared our views on the situation. In his opinion, Israel was committing three major war crimes in Gaza. The siege, the targeting of civilians, and the disproportionate use of force. These were all war crimes, he said. Israeli impunity had to end and the criminals responsible must be brought to justice.

That was the Mads Gilbert I knew, and that is the Mads Gilbert Israel recently banned for life from entry to Gaza, citing “security concerns”.

By banning this 67-year-old doctor, Israel not only ridicules itself but insults all humanity. Still, it is good to know that all the most sophisticated weaponry in the world is no match for a free spirit.

This article appeared on al-Araby al-Jadeed on the 20th of November 2014 here