Norway’s foreign ministry and Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who has treated wounded Gaza residents for more than 30 years, are both calling Israel’s sudden refusal to let him re-enter Gaza “completely unacceptable.” Norwegian officials have demanded an explanation from their Israeli counterparts, after Gilbert was denied entry into Gaza last month.
“We have told them we have no understanding for this,” Rune Bjåstad of the Norwegian foreign ministry in Oslo told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday. “There is a need for health care personnel in Gaza and the contribution Gilbert and other doctors make is important.”
Gilbert, a Palestinian advocate who has treated thousands of Palestinians after they’ve been wounded in Israeli attacks, said he was asked by Norwegian authorities to travel back to Gaza in October to continue his work there. Gilbert, a chief physician at the University Hospital of Northern Norway, intended to both follow up on patients he’d treated during last summer’s 50-day war and to continue working on research projects at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.
“When we got to the border station Erez, I was given the message by Israeli soldiers that I was not allowed to travel into Gaza,” Gilbert told NRK. “I had to turn around and head back to Norway.”
Norway’s embassy in Tel Aviv, which immediately took up the issue with Israeli authorities, was told Gilbert was prohibited from traveling in and out of Gaza for “security reasons.” An email that newspaper VG obtained indicated that Gilbert was denied access to Gaza on a permanent basis. Israel’s ambassador in Oslo later said that was not correct, and that Gilbert may be allowed to return to Gaza at a later date.
“The foreign ministry and the Norwegian embassy are doing what we can to help him,” Bjåstad said. “Norwegian authorities do not agree with this refusal and we have made that clear to the Israeli government. We will follow up this case and have asked for a clarification.” Bjåstad said that as far as he knew, no other doctors have been denied entry into Gaza, which remains in ruins after the recent bombings with many residents needing medical treatment.
Gilbert thinks he was denied entry as part of Israel’s campaign against his critical comments about the bombings. Gilbert has willingly provided detailed accounts to the media about the horrors he has seen and experienced in Gaza, and claims Israel wants to muzzle him.
“I’m a doctor, I’m no security threat,” Gilbert told NRK. “I have done nothing wrong, I have never broken Israeli law or taken part in illegal activities. I have had valid travel documents from the state of Israel.” He’s determined to return to Gaza and said he expects Norwegian government officials to make sure he can, if diplomatic efforts are unsuccessful.
Israel’s new ambassador to Norway, Raphael Schutz, denied the Israeli government was trying to silence Gilbert or hinder his work. “It is important to stress that this is not based on his opinions or nationality and it’s not permanent,” Schutz told NRK. “But it’s about how the situation is right now.” Schutz would not elaborate on why Gilbert was now considered a security risk.