by Rori Donaghy, The Middle East Eye
Israel has “indefinitely” banned Norwegian doctor and activist Mads Gilbert, who has provided medical care for Palestinians in Gaza for 15 years, from entering the coastal enclave.
“I was rejected on 1 October when I was standing at Erez with a valid Israeli permit for multiple entries, an invitation from the Palestinian Ministry of Health and a recommendation from the director at my hospital in north Norway,” he told MEE on Friday.
Dr Gilbert worked at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital during the recent 51-day Israeli assault on the Strip and has been a vocal critic of the Israeli occupation in Palestine.
He said the decision to bar him from Gaza was “totally unacceptable”.
“I have never violated Israeli law, never been arrested and never lied,” Gilbert said. “I can understand it’s inconvenient to have the medical situation documented from the Palestinian side, which I have done repeatedly in scientific papers and books.”
“But it is completely unacceptable to restrict the movement of humanitarian personnel – much needed in Gaza now after the last bombardment.”
After he was refused entry to Gaza, Norwegian authorities took up his case with Israel, who confirmed the doctor is “indefinitely excluded from entering through Erez”. Israeli officials said only that he was barred for “security reasons”.
Dr. Gilbert is defiant in responding to the ban and resolved to make a return to Gaza in the near future.
“I will not be stopped from returning to Gaza to do medical solidarity work,” he said. “There are different attempts going on to conceal the reality on the ground for the good people of Gaza – this is one of them – and we must be persist in resisting attempts to shutdown Gaza from the world.”
Israel’s 51-day military assault in Gaza this summer saw over 2,000 Palestinians killed, mostly civilians, as well as nearly 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers. A ceasefire deal was struck at the end of August to bring an end to the fighting, but Gilbert said this agreement is not being upheld on the Israeli side.
“The first precondition for the recent ceasefire was to ease the siege,” he said. “It has not been eased. This attempt to stop medical personnel entering Gaza is a tightening of the siege – this, again, is totally unacceptable.”
Gilbert said he was “happy” with Norway’s response to his case, which has seen ministers publicly oppose the decision to bar him from Gaza.
“From the Norwegian perspective, we have raised Gilbert’s exclusion from Gaza and asked Israel to change their decision,” Norwegian Secretary of State Bard Glard Pedersen told domestic media. “The humanitarian situation in Gaza is still difficult and there is a need for all health workers.”
After returning from Gaza, in the midst of Israel’s summer bombardment, Gilbert told MEE all the deaths were, in his opinion, completely preventable.
“This is planned, executed and deliberately done by the Israeli government and the Israeli army and that’s what really makes it so painful,” he said. “Because all of those injuries and all of those […] killed could have been prevented if the Israeli government had been willing to seek a peaceful political solution.”
Gilbert has been interviewed widely by international media and appeared on BBC’s HARDtalk after leaving Gaza in August.
Despite being labelled as a hero by many Palestinians, Gilbert shunned such praise when speaking to MEE.
“The heroes are in Gaza,” he said, referring to his colleagues at Shifa Hospital, who worked without pay for more than four months and who themselves became targets of Israeli missiles on hospitals and ambulances during the summer assault.
“As a doctor, I know that prevention is better than cure and the best prevention in Gaza is to lift the siege and stop the bombing. It’s as simple as that.”