Review of Eyes in Gaza, by Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, translated from Norwegian by Guy Puzey and Frank Stewart, Quartet Books: London, 2010.
During Israel’s 23-day war on Gaza (December, 2008 through January, 2009), an Israeli plane dropped seven bombs outside the home of a six-year old boy named Essidin. The child arrived by ambulance at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
“The boy had received life-threatening shrapnel wounds to the abdomen and the chest and was operated upon as soon as he came to al-Shifa. He . . . had a substantial stomach probe, as well as a thoracic drain and a large bandage to cover the central incision the surgeons had made when they opened his abdomen in order to stop the life-threatening haemorrhages. The boy’s breathing was calm but shallow, due to the painful operation wound. He was wearing a khaki shirt adorned with colourful military emblems — one read ‘Old Navy.’ His sheet had slid down, and he rested his head on the grey plastic hospital mattress cover. . .
“Essidin stared at me with a completely motionless gaze. He had beautiful brown eyes, but they were dilated and wore a shocked expression.
“‘What happened? What am I doing here, and who are you?’ his eyes asked silently.”
Eyes in Gaza, from which the above passage is drawn, reminds us why Israel and the US have been terrified that Palestine’s success at the UN would mean accountability for Israel. It shows why 80 percent of the Arab world considers Israel the world’s most dangerous country, and why even certain policy-makers in high US places are beginning to mutter about Israel’s being a liability to the US in America’s current economic crisis. This book has never been reviewed in the mainstream US press — no doubt because it is an act of literary resistance to US-Israeli apologetics for the war Israel ghoulishly nicknamed “Cast Lead.” It chronicles the days and nights Norwegian doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, sent to Gaza by the Norwegian Aid Society, spent beside their Palestinian medical colleagues in Gaza’s main teaching hospital, Al-Shifa. The book is based on the notes and journals its authors wrote late at night; on photographs, videos, the conversations they had during their time there; and inquiries they carried out later in the news media and other sources. Israel blocked all Western journalists from entering Gaza. There were no Western doctors before the authors arrived on New Year’s Eve, December 31.
The wounded and the dying poured into Al-Shifa’s emergency room daily from Gaza City’s densely-populated dwellings; from homes in Jabalya Refugee Camp; from mosques; from the UN school in Jabalya; from Gaza City’s central vegetable market — all areas packed with civilians. The doctors observe both in the book and in press interviews that the patients they saw were all civilians, among them many children. They also discuss the use of dense inert metal explosives which inflict gruesome, often inoperable wounds: at least two victims of DIME are presented in the book.
Gaza is an immense prison, 1.5 million people squeezed into 140 square miles caged on three sides by Israel’s 25-foot-high walls and electronic fencing, and on the sea by Israel’s military. (…)
The doctors’ entry into Gaza was facilitated by Norway’s Foreign Ministry. Gilbert is an anesthesiologist and heads the emergency medical department of University Hospital of North Norway. Erik Fosse is a surgeon and Professor of Medicine at the University of Oslo. There were plenty of Palestinian journalists, doctors, and civilian eye-witnesses. But these are non-persons in the courts of Western opinion. A German Der Spiegel journalist said in a phone interview with Fosse that even the wounded and dying children arriving at Al-Shifa were “mainly Hamas children.” (She was passing on a phrase used by an Israeli Defense Force spokesman.)
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EYES IN GAZA
Mads Gilbert & Erik Fosse
During the course of Israel’s twenty-two day military offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2009, 1,300 mostly civilian, Palestinians were killed, with many thousands more injured. Once again, the Palestinian Community lay in ruins.
Despite the Israeli authorities’ attempt to shut out aid workers and the media from the conflict zone, NORWAC (the Norwegian Aid Committee) succeeded in getting some of its envoys into the heart of Gaza City including two doctors: Erik Fosse and Mads Gilbert.
For some time, the two were the only Western eyewitnesses in Gaza. This book is an account of their experience during sixteen harrowing days from 27 December 2008 to 12 January 2009. Each chapter covers just one day, as the reader follows the doctors’ journey through the ravaged city, treating local Palestinians and hearing their stories.
Hailed by the influential Norwegian Newspaper Klassekampen as the ‘best book of 2009,’ Mads Gilbert’s and Erik Fosse’s shocking, yet sober account sheds much-needed light on this recent chapter of one of the most prolonged and complex conflicts of our time.
Eyes In Gaza is translated from the Norwegian by Guy Puzey and Frank Stewart.