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Meet Tarek Loubani, the Canadian Doctor Shot by Israeli Forces Monday While Treating Gaza’s Wounded

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As Palestinians vow to continue protesting against the Israeli occupation of Gaza, we speak to a Canadian doctor who was shot by Israeli forces in both legs Monday while he was helping injured Palestinians. Israeli forces shot dead at least 61 unarmed Palestinian protesters taking part in the Great March of Return Monday, including one doctor. Canada, Britain, Germany, Ireland and Belgium have called for an investigation into the killings. The United Nations Human Rights Council has announced that it will hold a special session Friday to discuss escalating violence in Gaza. We speak with Dr. Tarek Loubani, an emergency room medical doctor, one of 19 medical personnel shot in Gaza on Monday. Loubani is an associate professor at Western University in London, Ontario. He is a Palestinian refugee and a member of the Glia Project creating open-source medical devices for low-resource settings.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations Human Rights Council has announced it will hold a special session Friday to discuss escalating violence in Gaza, after Israeli forces shot dead at least 61 unarmed Palestinian protesters taking part in the Great March of Return on Monday. More than 2,700 Palestinians were injured.

This comes just one day after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, blocked a call for an international investigation into Israel’s actions. On Tuesday, Haley repeatedly blamed the violence on Hamas, while praising Israel for showing restraint. But a senior Israeli army spokesperson admitted Tuesday Israel failed to minimize Palestinian casualties during the protests. This is Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, the international spokesperson and head of social media for the IDF—that’s the Israel Defense Forces—speaking at a briefing organized by the Jewish Federations of North America.

LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS: Have there been mistakes? Have there been bullets that missed their target and hit people that weren’t the target? Of course there have. But I can to you that it is a chaotic environment on the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant Colonel Conricus also said Hamas, quote, “wanted the casualties,” and called the photos of thousands wounded in Gaza a “knockout” publicity win for Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also blamed Hamas at the Gaza border Wednesday.

DEFENSE MINISTER AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN: [translated] I want to emphasize, the leadership of Hamas is a gang of cannibals, who treat also their own children as ammunition. They have rocket ammunition. There is personal ammunition, and there is a different kind of ammunition: children or women.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Gaza, where we’re joined by the Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani. On Monday, Israeli forces shot him in his left leg and right knee while he was treating gunshot wound patients in Gaza. He was one of 19 medical personnel shot in Gaza Monday. Dr. Loubani is an emergency room medical doctor, associate professor at Western University in London, Ontario, a Palestinian refugee and member of the Glia Project creating open-source medical devices for low-resource settings.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, quote, “We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded—along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.” Prime Minister Trudeau called for an immediate independent investigation into the killings in Gaza. Dr. Tarek Loubani is still in Gaza, both legs shot.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Thank you for being with us. Can you describe what happened to you on Monday?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: Thank you for having me, Amy. Basically, on Monday, I was doing what I’ve been trained to do for years. I’ve been a field medic for quite a while. I’m an emergency physician with specialization in trauma. I do trauma work in London, Ontario, in Canada, where I spend most of the year. And I also do lots of trauma work here. I know where to be. I’ve been around gunfire an awful lot. I’ve been at massacres, as well, such as in Egypt previously and a few other places. And, I tell you, I was in fact the least experienced person on the team when it came to gunshots. The paramedics were even more experienced than I was, unfortunately.

We were away from the protest area, about 25 meters west, 25 meters south of the protesters. It was calm. Everybody was sort of loitering. There were no tires on fire. There was no chaos. It was a very controlled scene. We knew where we were. We could see the sniper posts. For sure, they could see us. And I was just sort of talking to the medical team. We were testing out some medical devices that we’ve been trying to make in Gaza because of a shortage. And we had resupplied, because we ran out. It was very early in the day, and yet we had run out of our entire supply, so we resupplied. That’s when, unfortunately, I heard a loud bang, found myself on the ground and realized I had been shot.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened next?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: The first rescuer who came to me was a man named Musa, a paramedic, who was excellent and who I’ve trained with and helped train, as well. He sort of came over, was like, you know, “Look, Doctor, what have you done to yourself here?” looked at my leg, cut my pants and started work. He looked at it. It was bleeding. And he said, “What do you think? Should we put a tourniquet on?” It was a good question, because the fact is that had I been anywhere else in the world, I would have had a tourniquet put on, but we had such a shortage. There have been so many injuries to the arms and legs among protesters that we have a tremendous shortage of tourniquets, which is a belt that you use—I’ll show you one after—to basically stop bleeding on people who have been shot. So, when he asked me this, I looked, and I knew that I needed one, but I thought, “We only have eight.” One of them was in my back pocket. I took it out. I threw it to them, and I said, “No, use it for somebody else.” I knew there were many more gunshots to come. They put a pressure bandage. I bled through it, of course, and the next one, of course. But still I ended up being OK. I got sent to another hospital and treated there.

Had I been in Canada, I’ve asked my trauma colleagues, because I—like I said, I work a lot of trauma in Canada. And I asked my Canadian colleagues. They said, “Yeah, you needed a surgery. Yeah, should have gone in there, cleaned it up, explored it, you know, etc., etc., and then kept you in the hospital for a while.” But in that moment in Gaza, there were so many casualties. I mean, I was brought to the hospital in a vehicle that held six patients. So, there were so many casualties. I was literally the least wounded one. And so I was discharged, because everyone knew that the problems to come for me were going to be later. You know, I’ll deal with it at home.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Loubani, what happened to the paramedic who treated you, the one who asked if you wanted a tourniquet put on your legs?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: Musa Abuhassanin was a great guy. I’m talking about him in the past tense because about an hour after he rescued me, he ended up going back to the field on a call, and, unfortunately, he was shot in the chest. There was so much fire around him and so much live ammunition that his colleagues couldn’t get to him and couldn’t treat him. And when they finally did get to him, it was about 20 minutes later. The problem he had, it’s called a pneumothorax, basically air where it shouldn’t be in the chest. And it shouldn’t have killed him. I knew how to fix it. If I were there, I could have fixed it with literally a BIC pen. But, unfortunately, he couldn’t receive the treatment he needed, and he died.

AMY GOODMAN: He couldn’t receive the treatment he wanted because there was so much fire by the Israeli military forces in this area where the paramedics were that he could not be attended to by anyone else? They couldn’t get around him?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: They couldn’t get to him, no. There was so much fire there. And anybody who sort of like peeked out was shot. So, even though the rule for us is we just don’t put ourselves in a situation where we get shot, we’re incredibly careful. We’re incredibly careful. He was wearing a high-visibility orange jacket, that had been submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Israeli army as a paramedic service. I was wearing greens, hospital greens. We were all marked in high visibility. And yet, unfortunately, he was shot. And his colleagues, who were all highly marked, were being targeted anytime that they showed themselves. So everybody was to the ground until things calmed down, which took about half an hour.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Loubani, do you think you, do you think the other paramedics—how many altogether? Nineteen killed or wounded, just on Monday alone. Do you think you were targeted by the Israeli military?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know what orders they received or what was in their heads, so I can’t tell you if we were deliberately targeted. What I can tell you is the things that I do know. In the six weeks of the march, there were no paramedic casualties. And in one day, 19 paramedics—18 wounded plus one killed—and myself were all injured, so—or were all shot with live ammunition. We were all—Musa was actually in a rescue at the time, but everybody else I’ve talked to was like me. We were away during a lull, without smoke, without any chaos at all, and we were targeted—and we were, rather, hit by live ammunition, most of us in the lower limbs. So, it’s very, very hard to believe that the Israelis who shot me and the Israelis who shot my other colleagues—just from our medical crew, four of us were shot, including Musa Abuhassanin, who passed away. It’s very hard to believe that they didn’t know who we were, they didn’t know what we were doing, and that they were aiming at anything else.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Loubani, I want to ask you about a photo that you posted on Twitter. It shows you and three other men, from last Friday. You wrote, quote, “A haunting photo, Friday, May 11. Left: Mohammed Migdad, shot in the right ankle. Hassan Abusaada. Tarek Loubani, shot in left leg and right knee. Moumin Silmi. Youssef Almamlouk. Musa Abuhassanin, shot in the thorax and killed. Volunteer unknown. Photographer: shot and wounded.” Talk about this.

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: Yeah. Yeah, so we were—that was a group photo on Friday, after the protests had died down. We were there. We had tended to probably a minimum of a hundred people, just our medical crew. There were other medical crews there, too. And afterwards, one of the guys, the photographer, ended up getting shot. He’s also a paramedic, with an interest in photography. He said, “Let’s take a group shot.”

When we took it, I thought that we were taking a photo that would be lost in my photo album. I didn’t think I would be taking a photo that predicted the shootings of four of us and the killing of one of us. That’s why, for me, it was a haunting photo. And that’s why, for me, it is such a terrible scene. I am devastated that all of us ended up being wounded, and I’m devastated that I can’t be back on the field. But the reality is that I’m the luckiest one of all of us, because if I want, I can leave here. I can go get treatment in Canada, if I want. And realistically, I just got so lucky with my gunshot that I’m probably going to have the least disability of everybody else in that photo who did get shot.

AMY GOODMAN: Canadian Prime Minister—your prime minister—Justin Trudeau said, “We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded—along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.” The prime minister called for an immediate independent investigation into the killings in Gaza. Dr. Loubani, can you talk about what your prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has called for—Canada, Belgium, France, Britain and other countries—and what the U.S. did at the United Nations this week, stopping an investigation from taking place?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: I congratulate Prime Minister Trudeau for representing the Canadian people. It has been a while now that the Canadian people have felt that there is a problem in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, that there is a problem with the way that civilians in Gaza are treated, both as a result of the blockade and as a result of shootings that appear to target civilians. I congratulate the government of Canada for taking that very courageous step. I’m sure that they’re going to pay a political price for doing it.

However, what’s this investigation going to reveal? What’s it going to tell us? And will it change the lives of the people in Gaza? Ultimately, the people in Gaza didn’t go out to their protests because they wanted an investigation. They went out to the protests because they wanted a change in the conditions. And so, I’ve called on the Canadian government, and when I’ve spoken to the minister, Minister Freeland, from the Canadian government, I asked her for an infrastructure project, anything that will resolve the—or, not resolve, but, rather, relieve a little bit of the situation here. For example, to deal with the electricity situation, we can put solar power on hospitals, which is a project that I’ve been involved in on a small scale. We could do that on a big scale. We could do sewage treatment. We could try to relieve the blockade, build a port, create a way for Palestinians to enter and exit. These are things that will improve Palestinian lives, not investigations. We don’t lack investigations. And frankly, while I think that it will be academically interesting to add to the record, I don’t think it will change Palestinian lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Hospitals in Gaza are continuing to struggle with the thousands of patients who were wounded by the Israeli military just this week alone. Now, again, in the six weeks of these nonviolent protests in Gaza, over a hundred Palestinians have been killed, over 12,000 wounded. This is Ayman al-Sahbani, the director of the emergency room at Shifa Hospital.

DR. AYMAN AL-SAHBANI: [translated] The emergency department at Shifa medical center received the biggest number of these injuries. We received almost 500 injuries, while the capacity of the emergency department is 20 beds, or 20 injuries. We are talking about 25 times as much of the capacity of the emergency department, with all the big challenges and the shortage in medicine and the medical supplies that reached critical levels.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Dr. Tarek Loubani, about the state of the medical system in Gaza and the impact of the Israeli blockade? And describe just what that is. Were you taken to Shifa yourself?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: I wasn’t taken to Shifa. Shifa is considered the premier hospital in Gaza. However, by the time that I was shot, Shifa was well and thoroughly overloaded. There was a kind of round-robin disaster system. And it was very clear to me that even though I might have received better care at Shifa, that there was no way that I deserved to go there. So I was sent to a different hospital, which provided me great care and did everything that was needed, but was completely overwhelmed, as well. Every hospital here is overwhelmed.

I work at Shifa, as a rule. I work in that emergency room with Dr. Ayman, the one who you showed. And really, the situation there is very dire in normal times. In normal times, I don’t have the anesthetics to freeze people when I sew them. In normal times, I can’t give people pain medication like morphine. In normal times, it’s very, very hard to find even gloves for my patients or gauze for my patients. So, the situation is terrible in normal times. Now that there is this disaster that is happening, this disaster unfolding all over Gaza, it’s been even worse. I mean, it’s gotten to the point where, in fact, I had to very carefully pick who it was that I’d use gloves on when I was in the field, because we have a shortage of gloves; had to pick who I would use a bandage on, because we have a shortage of bandage. These things are not supposed to be caught by the blockade, but they are. De facto, the hospitals are in a complete disaster scene. And I must say, it makes it so that my complaints about lack of supplies and services when I’m in Canada—it makes those complaints really come into perspective, when I’m here just trying for the absolute basics.

I wasn’t in Shifa that day. I have not been able to go to Shifa since, because I can barely walk. Today was my first outing. However, having said that, I have heard from my colleagues at Shifa. They’re devastated. They’re traumatized. They don’t know what to do. They were piling bodies in corners. I mean, it’s terrible. They are very good at what they do, but everybody has limits, and every hospital has limits. And if this were downtown New York or downtown Toronto or downtown any other metropolis, they would not be able to deal with the devastation that was faced.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Al Jazeera is reporting that medics on the ground are saying Israeli forces are shooting at demonstrators with a new type of round not seen before, known as the butterfly bullet, which explodes upon impact, pulverizing tissue, arteries and bone, causing severe internal injuries. Can you talk about this? Did you see this yourself, Dr. Loubani, before you were shot, and after?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: Yes. So, I didn’t see much after I was shot. I’ve been recuperating. But before I was shot, yes, I’ve seen a lot of this type of bullet. You can even hear the difference, because they sound different. And so, my heart always drops when I would hear one of these bullets come out and hit a patient. And I always knew, when we would go to those patients, firstly, that they would certainly need extensive amount of work, both on the field and then in the hospital, and, secondly, that their lives would be devastated forever. Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, has released a report on this very unusual injury pattern.

On the day that I was wounded, I found a photo of a child who was wounded with one of these shots, which devastated his leg. I was very lucky. I was wounded with a regular bullet. That’s why I didn’t have my leg amputated. That’s why I’m lucky. However, so many people have had this particular kind of bullet used on them. I don’t know—I don’t know why that happened. I don’t know what particular advantage this bullet has. However, functionally, on the field, what it means is sheer devastation, pulverization of bone, near amputation. We’re usually carrying the distal part, the far part where the shot is, separately, because it’s just so devastated.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Tarek Loubani, final words, in the last 30 seconds we have with you. As you speak to us from Gaza, both of your legs shot, your thoughts, coming from this region, where the Palestinians say they will continue to nonviolently protest?

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: I came here because I really believe in the idea that every single person, regardless of their race, nationality, creed, even political beliefs, deserves the best medical care. I was not able to deliver that on Monday, and neither were my colleagues. For the first time in almost six weeks, we saw patients die preventable deaths on the field. And that should never happen. And so, I want to see a Gaza in which two things happen: one, no medical person ever feels in danger of being targeted, and, two, the root causes of the protests, the devastation and desperation, are addressed in a direct way by the international community and, of course, by Israel, who’s ultimately responsible for Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Tarek Loubani, I want to thank you for being with us, emergency room medical doctor, associate professor at Western University in London, Ontario. He is a Palestinian refugee, a member of the Glia Project creating open-source medical devices for low-resource settings, treating gunshot wound patients in Gaza when he was shot by the Israeli military on Monday. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’ll be back in a minute.

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