Despite the flurry of reports from Gaza today, very few news outlets picked up on Hamas’s declaration that it had closed the Erez border crossing into Israel, citing “Israeli shelling” as the reason for doing so. The move, reported AFP, left stranded a group of Palestinians who had arrived at Erez early in the morning, “some of whom were scheduled to enter Israel for cancer treatment.”
Sadly, these patients may have to wait a while before attempting the journey again, as Hamas subsequently announced that the border crossing will remain closed until it receives an “international guarantee that the crossing, and the route between the two sides of the crossing, will not be bombed by Israel.” In the interim, their other option is to ascertain whether Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor currently in Gaza City, is willing to take time out of his busy media schedule to assist them.
Over the last couple of days, Gilbert has become an unofficial spokesman for the Hamas regime, giving interviews like this one in which he accused Israel of “deliberately” targeting civilians, “particularly women and children.” Pro-Palestinian activists on social media platforms have been eagerly reporting Gilbert’s every move, lauding him with such terms as “hero” and “great humanitarian.” Among Gilbert’s admirers is Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA, the UN agency devoted exclusively to Palestinian refugees, who repeatedly tweeted the doctor’s email address and cell phone number, describing him as a “brilliant interviewee” on the “impact of the conflict on civilians.”
One does not, however, have to dig very deep to discover that the halo effect around Gilbert masks some very disturbing affiliations. To begin with, Gilbert is an active member of Norway’s Red Party, a Maoist organization formed in 2007, which begs the question as to how someone who perpetuates the ideology of a tyrant who murdered 45 million of his own people over four years can be described as a “humanitarian.” Nor does Gilbert have a track record of helping anyone other than the Palestinians; as the journalist Benjamin Weinthal revealed on Twitter, his emails and phone calls to Gilbert asking the doctor why he wasn’t treating victims of the slaughter in Syria were met with silence.
Gilbert’s reputation is derived not from his medical work, but from his frequent verbal assaults on Israel and the United States, which stretch back to the early 1980s, when he became active in Palestinian solidarity work. As the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor pointed out in a statement urging media organizations to treat Gilbert’s comments on Gaza with extreme caution, a few days after the al-Qaeda atrocities of September 11, 2001, Gilbert gave an interview to the Norwegian daily Dagbladet in which he stated, “The oppressed also have a moral right to attack the USA with any weapon they can come up with.” Chairman Mao himself couldn’t have put it better.
None of this has eroded Gilbert’s celebrity; arguably, it’s enhanced it. When he and his colleague Erik Fosse visited Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, their expenses were covered by a Norwegian NGO that is funded by the Norwegian government. While the two doctors were in Gaza, spending an inordinate amount of time talking to journalists about Israeli “war crimes,” they received a phone call from no less than Jens Stoltenberg–then Norway’s prime minister, now the incoming secretary-general of NATO–who assured them that “all of Norway is behind you.” A subsequent book about their experiences in Gaza was praised by Norway’s Foreign Ministry, which said that conveying their impressions was “not their duty, but their responsibility,” given that in such dire situations, “civilians become voiceless.”
No wonder, then, that Gilbert now feels licensed to elevate the political goals of his current Gaza mission above any medical considerations. Speaking to a reverential Amy Goodman on the left-wing Democracy Now! show, Gilbert went so far as to say, “As a medical doctor, my appeal is don’t send bandages, don’t send syringes, don’t send medical teams. The most important medical thing you can do now is to force Israel to stop the bombing and lift the siege of Gaza.”
As Operation Protective Edge enters its second week, we can expect Gilbert to make ever more outlandish statements the longer he remains in Gaza. But that won’t stop media organizations from trumpeting Gilbert’s medical credentials–as did Britain’s Channel 4 News, which billed him as “a Norwegian volunteer surgeon at Shifa Hospital in Gaza,” thereby encouraging its audience to take the good doctor at his word–while ignoring the fact that he is an integral element of the Hamas propaganda network.
But that, ironically, is what underlies Gilbert’s appeal. He tells Europeans what they want to hear: that Israel has made Gaza into a prison camp, and that nothing is more noble than the Palestinian determination to resist. Once you succeed in getting that message across, what does it matter whether Hamas rejects a ceasefire, or invites a firm Israeli response by sending even more missiles over the border?
As tempting as it is to dismiss Gilbert as a crazy Norwegian Maoist in Gaza, the reality is that he is using his media appearances to stoke the libel of the century: namely, that Israel, in the words of the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, is engaged in “a genocide against the Palestinian people in all territories.”