A relative carried the body of one of five young sisters who died in an air strike at Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp December 2008. (Reuters)
Two years ago Israel launched a ferocious campaign, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” on the Gaza strip, claiming it to be a retaliatory action aimed at Hamas.
The Israeli occupying forces had imposed a brutally harsh blockade on Gaza, impoverishing the population and severely blighting their day-to-day lives.
Two Norwegian doctors, envoys from NORWAC (Norwegian Aid Committee) managed to get over the Rafah crossing and into Gaza with little more than two boxes of medicine and their belongings on New Year’s Eve.
Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, who worked in Al Shifa hospital, bore witness to the shocking events in Gaza and conveyed their experiences to the world by reporting their observations and later on publishing a book.
At the time the Israeli army was trying their best to keep aid and the media out, though claiming otherwise.
The book, Eyes in Gaza presents the views of these two observers, who were not aligned with either side ‘participating’ in the war. Their account reflects the tremendous shock and outrage they felt at the brutality and cruelty of the Israelis.
“Could such a well-organised and experienced army as Israel’s have carried out a comprehensive massacre on defenceless, unarmed Palestinian civilians?” Gilbert wonders. “As a defence mechanism we refused to believe such things were real.”
The history of the Israeli-Palestinian war is subtly included in the book, usually in small notes that are akin to observations and do not irk the reader, rather it flows casually throughout the events of the war.
As Al-Shifa hospital became flooded with the wounded and dead, the severity of ‘Operation Cast Lead’ became blindingly apparent. The sheer number of the wounded alone was enough to overwhelm the hospital staff. The blockade aggravated the situation further, creating chronic shortages in everything from grain, flour and electricity to medicines and other hospital supplies.
The continuous flow of victims included a boy with a fatal splinter injury to his brain, another hit by an Israeli rocket and a DIME bomb victim who died after his lower body was blown off. But reporting these atrocities earned Gilbert the name, "the Hamas propaganda doctor" as dubbed by Fox news.
After the Israeli army hit a vegetable market on 3 January 2009 Gilbert sent a message to his international contacts pleading that "they have bombed the central market in Gaza city two hours ago. 80 are injured, 20 killed, all came here to Shifa. We are wading in death, blood and amputees. Many children, a pregnant woman. I have never experienced anything so terrible. Now we hear tanks. Pass this on, send it on, shout it out. Anything. Do something!”
What of the aid sent from the international community? They were ‘conveniently’ hindered by the Israeli army. There were incidents such as what happened to the Dignity from Cyprus. This aid boat was stopped by the Israeli navy, which fired at it and rammed it until finally it changed course.
The Israeli war crimes in Gaza were not limited to the blatant attacks on the civilian population, in what was nothing short of a massacre, but also to the use of very problematical tactics and weapons. These included DIME weapons and using the people of Gaza as human shields, according to an Israeli NGO, Breaking Silence (Shovrim Shtika).
The death toll reached 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians including 300 children. 13 Israelis died in the campaign.
The doctors explain that the prevailing dialogue surrounding Palestine and Israel “influence our understanding of reality.” Palestine has almost disappeared. Words like “settlements” give the impression that the land was empty, as the Israelis have often claimed, when they established their communities. The correct terms are “occupation” and “colonisation.”
Gilbert and Fosse tell readers in their jointly-written foreword that "words are powerful."