Raymond Deane, The Electronic Intifada, 31 July 2015
Night in Gaza by Mads Gilbert (Skyscraper Publications)
Since 2006, Israel has launched four merciless assaults on the besieged and defenseless Gaza Strip. After Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, with its 1,400 Palestinian fatalities, the Norwegian surgeon Dr. Mads Gilbert published the best-selling Eyes in Gaza.
That book, a record of his and co-author Erik Fosse’s experiences in Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital during the massacre, made him the object of a relentless campaign of defamation by Israel and its fellow-travellers.
In July 2014 Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Israeli onslaught, inflicted more than 2,200 Palestinian fatalities, including 551 children. This attack was also partly witnessed by Gilbert; in its wake the Israeli authorities did not stop at defamation, but imposed a permanent ban on his entry to Gaza, reportedly for “security” reasons.
In the preface to his new book Night in Gaza, Gilbert comments: “When a pen, a camera and a stethoscope are seen as security threats, we know we are dealing with a regime that is afraid of the truth and that believes power confers rights.”
Clearly, however, the ban on Gilbert stems less from fear of the “small, black Sony … compact digital camera” that he carried wherever he went, even into the operating theater, than hostility to his unapologetically political stance.
“The medical profession cannot … be detached from society,” he tells us in his preface. “I am not neutral. I have taken a side. This book is a plea: in favor of the Palestinians.”
A photograph of a Palestinian nurse giving the victory salute as he deals with an emergency is captioned: “The health workers see themselves as part of the popular resistance.” And in his final, valedictory chapter, he proclaims that “the social aspect of [medical] work … means supporting all measures to reduce social inequalities … it is what makes the medical profession a political tool.”
Of course, the State of Israel also sees the medical profession as a political tool, periodically sending teams of doctors, soldiers and press photographers to the sites of natural disasters (Nepal, Haiti, the Philippines) while hindering alleviation of the disaster it has created in Gaza.
If Israel’s politicization of medicine is designed ultimately to further the Zionist project of dispossession and conquest, Gilbert’s political stance is, on the contrary, taken in defense of Palestinian rights and universal human values.
Gilbert’s small black camera, nonetheless, may arouse certain reservations. One approaches the very cover with trepidation: a photograph of a little girl’s head swathed in a sheet, her eyes closed. A glance inside the cover reveals that she is not in fact dead but anesthetized: a “beautiful moment of serenity amidst all the chaos of the nightmare that was the Shujaiya massacre.”
While this experience of unease followed by relief recurs throughout the book, there are also profoundly disturbing photographs of the dying and indeed the dead.
Gilbert writes that “Every single image in this book has been evaluated by senior medical staff at al-Shifa and by the Palestinian ministry of health with regard to whether it is ethically justifiable to publish them and to whether patient confidentiality has been respected. I have received official authorization for all the pictures included in this book. Names have generally been omitted.”
It might have been better for this clarification to have been placed at the beginning of the book rather than at the end.