Mads Gilbert is a critic of US foreign policy and of Israel. He also happens to be a Norwegian emergency medicine specialist who is currently working inside Gaza.
As a doctor, he has shown up in TV reports describing the situation inside his medical facility. But as a critic of Israel/US policy he is under attack himself, from predictable quarters:
High-Profile Doctor in Gaza Called an ‘Apologist for Hamas’ — Fox News
Norwegian Doctors in Gaza: Objective Observers or Partisan Propagandists? — Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
Mads Gilbert — Doctor, Pundit, Shill for Terrorism — Harry’s Place
But there’s something to this beyond the crude smears and innuendo.
Gilbert and his colleagues repair people in conflict zones. But they have an uncomfortable world view. Take this Norwegian newspaper interview. In it, Gilbert condemns 9/11 but says that he can understand the justification for terrorism. His colleague Hans Husum, who treated Afghans fighting the USSR in the late 1980s, will perhaps give you a better idea of where Gilbert is coming from (warning: my translation):
In 1982 in Beirut, I treated a 12-year-old Palestinian boy. His name was Tariq, and his whole family, relatives and friends had been destroyed by the Israeli war machine. After several operations, I managed to salvage one badly injured arm, but he was so depressed he couldn’t talk or eat.
He had pulled through only to die of despair, until I said that he could shoot with his other hand. Then he decided to live and to be what Bush calls a terrorist. Do we have the right to require that the Tariqs of this world should just lie down and die?
Well, we don’t have that right. But we don’t have the right to license them to kill either.
When I said their world views were uncomfortable, I meant for us, not them. As Husum says elsewhere in the interview, he sees the world in black and white.
Fanon was writing in the context of the Algerian resistance to colonial occupation by France. Some French intellectuals, notably Sartre who wrote an introduction to the book, had themselves justified resistance to the Nazi occupation of France in WW2, and had come to see all political conflicts as a battle between the oppressors and the oppressed. Sartre wrote that “violence, like Achilles’ lance, can heal the wounds that it has inflicted.”
Gilbert has a long history of selfless medical service, but also of partisan commitment to “the oppressed.” In one version of the black and white account of Middle Eastern politics, that would be inhabitants of Gaza (Israeli supporters have their own version).
But that very commitment, which motivates him to journey to war zones (he’s been to Burma and countless other places), makes him a difficult witness. Or, at the very least, not a neutral observer. Does it make him a ‘shill’ for terrorism, or an ‘apologist’ for Hamas? I don’t think it does, but his moral compass is pointing one way. Still, without his — to my mind — flawed moral certainty, would Gilbert put his life on the line?
He certainly has a keen grasp of how to use viral SMS to get his message out. And it isn’t simply reporting. Here’s Menassat:
[O]n Monday, Scandinavian countries began receiving SMS alerts on their mobile phones giving eyewitness accounts from Gilbert telling of the situation from Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.
One message read obtained by MENASSAT read: “We are swimming in death, blood, and amputated victims. Many children. Pregnant women. I’ve never experienced anything so awful.”
In the SMS, Gilbert also claimed that Gaza’s main vegetable market had been bombed on Monday morning, killing 20 people and injured 80.
Gilbert’s messages eventually became a doctor’s cry for people to take action to pressure European governments to pressure their leaders into brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
“Send it (the SMS) along, call it out. DO SOMETHING! DO MORE!,” Gilbert pleads in one SMS, adding, “We shouldn’t call ourselves decent Europeans if we don’t act to stop this.”
He told Swedish Radio, “This is the Warzaw ghettos of 2009,” an allusion to the NAZI offensive on the Jewish section of the Polish capital in the Second World War.
In one respect, Gilbert is very right, as Sartre was. There is no neutral position. Even ambivalence counts for something. But in another, he’s very wrong for not making his own partisan commitment clear when he speaks.