National Post (Latest Edition)



- ViVian berCoViCi National Post in Tel Aviv Vivian Bercovici is Canada’s former ambassador to Israel. She lives in Tel Aviv


On Monday, May 14, Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian-Palestinia­n physician, was at the Gaza-Israel border. Dressed in green hospital scrubs, he reports that he was standing in a cluster of medics wearing orange vests. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), according to Dr. Loubani, understood that the group were all medical first responders.

In a lengthy interview published online on May 17 with Democracy Now!, a leftish, U.S.-based news provider, Dr. Loubani explained that he and his colleagues were standing about 25 metres from the protesters at the Gaza-Israel border fence, discussing medical supplies during a “lull,” when, suddenly, all hell broke loose.

Dr. Loubani alleges that he, and other first responders, were targeted and shot by IDF snipers. He describes having been hit in the left leg and right knee. Deciding to delay necessary medical treatment beyond some essential care, he tweeted about flying first to London, England, to attend a medical conference and then continued on to London, Ont., where he lives on June 1, and will, presumably, receive proper care for his wounds.

On May 16, Justin Trudeau issued a very strongly worded statement, declaring himself to be “appalled” that Dr. Loubani “along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children” were injured. Using uncharacte­ristically undiplomat­ic language, the prime minister further shared his thoughts with the world, specifical­ly: “Reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusabl­e. It is imperative we establish the facts of what is happening in Gaza. Canada calls for an immediate independen­t investigat­ion to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground — including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force.”

The investigat­ion demanded by Trudeau is dismissed by Dr. Loubani as being pointless. Gazans were protesting their living conditions, he asserts, and no investigat­ion will change that.

Actually, it is no secret that the protesters have gathered regularly since March 30, in what Hamas — the terrorist group organizing what Dr. Loubani misidentif­ies as mere protests — calls “The Great March of Return.” Demonstrat­ors are urged to tear down the border fence, kidnap IDF soldiers, murder and mutilate Israeli civilians and liberate Jerusalem from the hands of the Zionist, fascist occupiers.

Hamas has buses waiting outside mosque midday prayers to shuttle men to the fence. Demonstrat­ors are paid a stipend by Hamas for attending, with additional supplement­s to the wounded and families of the shahids — martyrs who die in holy war against the Jews. Nothing happens in the Gaza Strip without Hamas’s blessing.

Many protesters bring along IEDs, grenades, knives, machetes and wire cutters. They have launched burning kites, with Molotov cocktails and other flammable devices attached, that have scorched hundreds of hectares of Israeli crops. And there have been multiple attempts to breach the fence by men carrying various weapons.

Dr. Loubani was certainly aware that these protests are anything but peaceful before he went to the border on May 14. Of the 62 fatalities on May 14, Hamas senior official Salah Bardawil said that 50 were Hamas fighters. Listed as a terror organizati­on in Canada — and in most civilized countries — Hamas rules the Gaza Strip as a theocratic dictatorsh­ip.

Trudeau’s unstinting support of Dr. Loubani is admirable. But his statement did much more than demand an explanatio­n for the injury. His vituperati­ve tone was noted by media and on the street in Israel not only for its hostility but, more alarmingly, for reflecting a significan­t deficit of understand­ing as to what is actually going on at the border, and in Gaza.

We all, surely, commend Dr. Loubani’s commitment to helping those less fortunate and wish him a speedy and full recovery. Perhaps he will be more mindful, in the future, of the consequenc­es of operating in a highly volatile and violent environmen­t.

In August 2013, Dr. Loubani was on his way to Gaza to work in Al Shifa Hospital, when he made a stopover in Cairo. He strolled with a friend to Tahrir Square and stumbled, he says, unwittingl­y upon a violent anti-government riot. He reported at the time that he felt compelled to minister to the wounded on site, and the next thing he knew, he was arrested and incarcerat­ed for two months in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison. Reports originatin­g with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Dr. Loubani was in possession of small drones were dismissed by his supporters in Canada.

But Dr. Loubani’s colleague and adjunct nephrology professor at Western University, Ben Thomson, explained the reason for the drones, which he described as toy helicopter­s, to the Toronto Star. Dr. Loubani had planned to take them with him to Gaza to help deliver medical supplies around the hospital grounds. “We thought they would overcome the limitation­s of the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which is essentiall­y multiple buildings separated on very rugged terrain,” Thomson said. “It’s a challenge if patients need urgent care.”

Here’s what’s strange: There is nothing “very rugged” about the terrain on which Al Shifa Hospital is situated, IDF sources have confirmed to me. In fact, the Gaza Strip is a very flat, coastal plain.

In his Democracy Now! interview, Dr. Loubani further asserted that Israel was using “butterfly bullets” in the current conflict with Gaza. These bullets expand upon impact and explode in the body causing horrific injuries. The use of such bullets contravene­s The Hague Convention of 1899, as modified, meaning that Dr. Loubani is, in effect, accusing Israel of a war crime. The IDF strongly denies this allegation, confirming that only “standard and legal ammunition” have been used in the conflict. In light of the extreme and unrelentin­g internatio­nal scrutiny of Israeli conduct as well as Internatio­nal Red Cross direct engagement in medical care in Gaza, one might expect that such an extreme charge would be supported by an official, credible source. It has not been.

The IDF has undertaken an investigat­ion to gather facts in the Loubani case and will report its findings. In the meantime, Trudeau would do well to ponder the complexity of the situation and wait for answers before drawing conclusion­s.

 ?? MOHAMMED ABED / AFP / GETTY IMAGES ?? Palestinia­n protesters near a barbed-wire fence along the border with Israel in the central Gaza Strip on Friday.
MOHAMMED ABED / AFP / GETTY IMAGES Palestinia­n protesters near a barbed-wire fence along the border with Israel in the central Gaza Strip on Friday.
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