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“We’re Responsible for This”: American Surgeons Return from Gaza, Call for End of U.S. Culpability in Genocide

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We speak with two doctors who’ve just returned after two weeks at the European Hospital in Gaza. Dr. Feroze Sidhwa and Dr. Mark Perlmutter are co-authors of a new piece for Common Dreams titled “As Surgeons, We Have Never Seen Cruelty Like Israel’s Genocide in Gaza.” They describe a hospital “hanging on by a thread,” with the majority of patients being young children, and bombing targeted at Muslim Palestinians “concentrated at the time of evening prayer.” “Genocide was the overwhelming impression that I got,” says Perlmutter. “This is dehumanization. The purpose of this is to kill a population.” He also says, of U.S. responsibility in this genocide, “We’re buying the bullets and the gun for the gunman who’s going to the school and killing the children.” “If our support stops, the occupation stops,” adds Sidhwa, urging other Americans to push political leaders and public discourse against the country’s support of Israel. “We have to raise the domestic cost for these policies.” Dr. Sidhwa and Dr. Perlmutter worked with the Palestinian American Medical Association in collaboration with the World Health Organization in Gaza. Collectively, they have previously volunteered medical assistance in the West Bank, Haiti and Ukraine, and after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Boston Marathon bombing.

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where Palestinians marked the end of Ramadan as Israel’s six-month assault continues. In a minute, we’ll speak with two doctors just back from volunteering at the European Hospital in Gaza who co-authored a new piece for Common Dreams headlined “We Have Never Seen Cruelty Like Israel’s Genocide in Gaza.”

In it, they wrote, quote, “As humanitarian trauma surgeons we have both seen incredible suffering. Collectively, we were present at Ground Zero on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti on the first day of these disasters. We have worked in the deprivation of southern Zimbabwe and the horrors of … the war in Ukraine and attended primary trauma services to those injured in the Boston Marathon. Together we have worked on more than 40 surgical missions in developing countries on three continents in our combined 57 years of volunteering. This long experience taught us that there was no greater pain as a humanitarian surgeon than being unable to provide needed care to a patient.

“But that was before coming to Gaza. Now we know the pain of being unable to properly treat a child who will slowly die, but also alone, because she is the only surviving member of an entire extended family. We have not had the heart to tell these children how their families died: burned until they resembled blistered hotdogs more than human beings, shredded to pieces such that they can only be buried in mass graves, or simply entombed in their former apartment buildings to die slowly of asphyxia and sepsis.”

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by the two surgeons who wrote that piece. In Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Dr. Mark Perlmutter is with us. He’s an orthopedic hand surgery specialist who just returned Monday from volunteering at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. He worked with the Palestinian American Medical Association in collaboration with the World Health Organization. He’s currently president of the World Surgical Foundation, immediate past president of the International College of Surgeons. And in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’re joined by Dr. Feroze Sidhwa, a trauma surgeon who’s also just returned from European Hospital. He also worked with the Palestinian American Medical Association in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I mean, those words that you wrote in this piece — and we thank you so much for joining us on the day after you finally both got back to the United States. I wanted to just read one more part from your piece and get Dr. Feroze Sidhwa to respond.

As you talked about European Hospital, you said, “We walked through the wards and immediately found evidence of horrifying violence deliberately directed at civilians and even children. A three-year-old boy shot in the head, a 12-year-old girl shot through the chest, an ICU nurse shot through the abdomen, all by some of the best-trained marksmen in the world.”

Dr. Sidhwa, describe your two weeks there in European Hospital and what this meant, how it compares to other work you’ve done around the world.

DR. FEROZE SIDHWA: Sure. Thanks for having me.

The things that struck me about working at Gaza European Hospital were — there were a few. One was the actual state of the hospital. The infrastructure of the hospital is completely overwhelmed, because the — not only the massive casualties that it’s receiving, and also having to deal with the normal medical problems that this hugely displaced population has coming down from the north, but also the infrastructure is just completely overwhelmed by this humongous displaced persons camp that’s not only outside of the hospital, but actually inside. Every square inch of the hospital, the hallways, even the wards, is taken up with tents that people have constructed from the detritus of their house. And so, it’s just — it’s completely overwhelmed. Sanitation is impossible. Even basic cleanliness is impossible. And the hospital is just barely hanging on by a thread in terms of functionality.

And the other thing that was really causing the hospital major problems is that the staff themselves is extremely not only traumatized, but they haven’t even been paid since October 7th. A hundred percent of the staff are just working on a voluntary basis. And that’s in the middle of still having to provide for their own family’s safety, their own family’s food provisions, sanitation, things that normally are just happening automatically. The medical students displaced from the north all came down and just spontaneously decided to volunteer at Gaza European Hospital. They’re kind of running the emergency room as best they can, while other physicians have been displaced. They’ve been — some of them have been killed. Some of them have been threatened by the Israelis and have left because of that. So it’s a very difficult situation.

The second thing that really struck me was the degree of violence that was being utilized. The magnitude of injury that’s caused by the bombs that — the U.S. bombs that Israel is using is really dramatic. These weapons are — the blast effect is incredible. They throw the environment itself through these patients. And I don’t even just mean large pieces of shrapnel like from the tile floor and the wall, or whatever, being ripped up and thrown into people, which that happens, too, but literally just the dust, the debris, everything is just embedded in the patient’s skin. And again, it makes clean surgical operations just simply impossible. You’d have to rip the person’s — all of their skin off to make them — to sanitize anything.

And then, the third thing was the evidence, like you mentioned, that we wrote, the evidence of the directed violence specifically at children. I mean, you can maybe argue that a bomb went off and a kid just happened to be nearby, but it’s not believable that the best-trained marksmen in the world accidentally shot a 3-year-old boy in the head, accidentally shot a 2-year-old girl twice in the head, accidentally shot — you know, it just goes on and on. And that was — I knew about it before I went, but to see it in person was really pretty shocking.

And I think the last thing that I would say that struck me was the attempt of the Palestinians to maintain their dignity and their humanity even in such really horrifying circumstances. They stayed in family units as much as they could. They tried to continue their traditions of Ramadan. Even though they’re all desperately hungry and thirsty, they would still fast during the day. And it was the maintaining of their culture, maintaining their family units, maintaining their belief that the future can be better. That was really quite dignified, in my opinion, and it was very, very impressive to see.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Mark Perlmutter, you know, you and Dr. Sidhwa sent us a number of extremely graphic videos and photos, some of which we are showing for our television viewers. If you could explain why you think it’s important for American audiences to see these graphic images, and then also explain why you, as an orthopedic hand surgery specialist, why you made the decision to go to Gaza?

DR. MARK PERLMUTTER: Absolutely. First, happy birthday to you again.

I’d like to echo what my newfound best friend Feroze had said. And realistically, what impressed me the most was the overt genocide that I was suspecting was going on. That’s what brought me there. I was involved into a telehealth network providing advice to young orthopedic surgeons providing surgery in Gaza. And when I realized, based on direct feedback, that these very misplaced pins and screws were being performed by trainees without guidance because their attending orthopedic surgeons were killed or captured and imprisoned inside of Israel, and that they were flying without instruction, that I’d make a commitment to go. When I got there, echoing what Feroze had said, genocide was the overwhelming impression that I got.

There are distinct signs of genocide. First of all, the bombs are cluster bombs. We’ve taken small pieces of shrapnel, dozens of pieces of shrapnel, out of toddlers, infants and teenagers. The country is 50% children, if not more. Overwhelmingly, our victims were children. I would say 70-75% of the people that we operated on were elementary school age or younger. The injuries were devastating. As Dr. Sidhwa said, the world’s best marksmen are not going to shoot a kid in the forehead twice and in the abdomen. These are midline shots directly aimed, and that doesn’t happen by accident.

Secondly, the bombing was concentrated at the time of evening prayers. It happened all day long, but it was distinctly, purposefully concentrated when the Muslims were gathered together in tight units, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, praying to God, while they’re being bombed. And the cluster bombs are infinitely more effective when the intended target is concentrated into a smaller location. That defines genocide. The cluster bombs are illegal. The snipers, aimed distinctly at children, are unethical and illegal.

And then, of course, the way that you dehumanize a population is to kill the humans. You deprive them of their medical schools, their clinics, their ambulances. Sure, there was a big American and worldwide — justified — outcry when the World Central Kitchen vans were distinctly and purposely bombed right through the center of their hoods, but prior to that, 200 ambulances were targeted by the red cross — in this case, it’s a red crescent — very prominently displayed on top of an ambulance. They have very modern ambulances. There was no mistaking that they were ambulances that were bombed. Two hundred were destroyed, along with the paramedics. Doctors were distinctly shot. An orthopedic surgeon was shot in his knee while he’s operating on a patient, because the soldier commanded him to leave the operating room and he refused to abandon his patient, quite ethically. He had his knee blown out across the room. He was immediately fixed by his trainees. And two days later, he was imprisoned by Israel for 45 days, according to him, a juice box every other day, blindfolded the entire time, dropped off at a nonroad prison — border to crawl for three kilometers until somebody rescued him, blind in one eye because a rifle butt exploded his right eye. This is dehumanization. This is the — the purpose of this is to kill a population.

Food delivery. When we left, there was tens of miles of incoming food trucks, four lines. The entrance into Gaza and the exit road into Gaza were all lined on both shoulders of the road with tens of miles of food trucks parked bumper to bumper to bumper, trying to get into the country, of course which is limited by the IDF or the Israeli government. Why aren’t they letting the food in, if not for to deprive the population of the substance that they need to survive? This is another definition of genocide. There’s no reason why they can’t let even inspected food trucks in. The product can be inspected. I’m sure it should be inspected. But this is life-sustaining materials. The hospitals, if we didn’t bring our orthopedic implants, if we didn’t bring our dressings, if we didn’t bring medicines, they would be devoid of all of this — another definition of genocide.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Perlmutter, explain about the photos, the photos and the videos, why you think those are so important for American audiences to see, the ones that you and Dr. Sidhwa sent.

DR. MARK PERLMUTTER: Well, because the American public, and I’m sure the German public, the two societies that are most responsible for sustaining this genocide, their media is being sterilized. If they saw pictures of babies with 10 pieces of shrapnel in its 1-year-old forehead and throughout its face, if they saw a 12-year-old missing all of their limbs and burnt, like we said in our letter, like an ignored hotdog on a grill, if they actually saw the dehumanization, the degree of it, the ubiquitous, widespread nature of it, then they would open their eyes and realize that we’re responsible for this. The big reason why I went is mea culpa. My tax dollars are paying for the bombs that are killing children, and that’s horrible.

You know, we have a lot of school shootings in the United States. If a gunman goes into a school and starts killing children, the American response, the world given response is, a sniper team goes in and tries to take out the offending gunman, regardless of their age. The Israeli response is to drop a bomb on the school to kill the gunman, but also incinerate the hundreds and hundreds of children, perhaps thousands, that could be living in that school, and incinerate them all just to get the single gunman. What America doesn’t understand is that the Hamas soldiers comprise less than one-tenth of 1% of the population of Palestine, of Gaza. The analogy of killing innocent children in a school just to kill the single gunman holds. If an orphanage had an infected rat sneak into it, you don’t incinerate the entire orphanage to get rid of the rat that snuck into the orphanage. But that’s exactly what we’re doing, except that we’re giving the bombs to Israel to bomb the orphanage. We’re buying the bullets and the gun for the gunman who’s going into the school and killing innocent children. We’re responsible.

And we have to open our eyes as a society and realize that it’s not just seven aid workers that unfortunately died, but there were 17,000, 18,000 children that are shredded like paper. They just don’t happen to be white children. And we have to open our eyes and care about them as much as we care about the seven aid workers that very unfortunately died.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask both of you a question, starting with Dr. Perlmutter. I mean, your credentials, you are an orthopedic surgeon. You are head of the World Surgical Foundation, past president of the International College of Surgeons. You’re both American. Dr. Perlmutter, you’re from a Jewish American family. Your twin is an Orthodox Jewish woman. Dr. Feroze Sidhwa is Zoroastrian. I wanted to ask you, Dr. Perlmutter — you wrote two emails to the U.S. Embassy in Israel when you went, pleading with them not to attack European Gaza Hospital, saying, “We’re deathly afraid of being bombed again as we were this morning.” What happened to you? And did the U.S. Embassy respond to you?

DR. MARK PERLMUTTER: I sent them two letters, one when the bombs were shaking in the — they were shaking the fillings out of our teeth. It is as if lightning struck inches away from you. That’s how much vibration the hospital ground sustained. The bombs did not actually enter into the walls of the hospital. They completely surrounded the hospital. The entire event occurred specifically to destroy the population outside the hospital. We were in fear of our lives. We were particularly in fear of our lives right after the bombing of the U.N. — I’m sorry, the World Central Kitchen convoy. While we were in full knowledge that doctors were being kidnapped and targeted, almost a hundred journalists were killed, the destruction of multiple ambulances, we felt targeted from the beginning. So, as we were approaching the end of our trip and after we’ve heard that all other hospitals were being thoroughly destroyed and their surgeons being kidnapped, we were in fear of our own lives. More importantly, we were in fear of the tens of thousands of people that sought refuge in that hospital compound, hoping that a hospital would not be targeted.

And so I wrote the American Embassy, to both the Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv offices. They sent me a return email acknowledging receipt of my first email. I’ve received no response from them. I got acknowledgment from the first email that I sent. I sent a second email saying, “This is the day we’re leaving. Could you please inform the IDF that our convoy, just like the World Central Kitchen’s convoy, is leaving at this time, on this date. This is the vans — this is what the vans look like. This is the timing that we’re going to leave.” And I received no response from them, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: You are talking to us from the hospital — you’re in your scrubs — in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. And, Dr. Feroze Sidhwa, you’re in Salt Lake City, on your way back to Stockton, California, where you work. I’m looking at your piece again in Common Dreams, Dr. Sidhwa. You write, “No amount of medical care could ever compensate for the damage being inflicted here. … Israel has dropped so much American ordinance on Gaza that it now exceeds the explosive force of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.” Can you talk about what you would say if you got to speak to President Biden? We interviewed Dr. Thaer Ahmad, who had just returned from Gaza. We believe he’s the first doctor on the ground in Gaza to actually directly address the president. He handed him a letter from an 8-year-old Palestinian orphan and then walked out of the White House. He said, “What can be said about what is happening here right now?” It was the day after the attack on the World Central Kitchen. What is your message, and not only to the president, but around the world, Dr. Sidhwa?

DR. FEROZE SIDHWA: I don’t think I would say much to Joe Biden. I think he knows exactly what’s going on, and I don’t think it’s important to him. I don’t think he cares if Palestinians are murdered like roaches and ants. But to the rest of Americans who have normal human values, they do care.

And, you know, one of the other things that Mark and I wrote in that piece is that the blood on the trauma bay floor and the operating room floor was dripping from our hands. And that’s — I think that’s accurate. Again, we provide the crucial military, economic and diplomatic support. Your viewers are no surprise to that. And that makes us responsible. If our support stops, the attacks stop. If our support stops, the occupation stops. It’s instant. It’s been proven a hundred times. It’s not hard to see.

And so, that’s what I would say to people, is if you want to stop participating unwittingly in these — in some of the worst crimes that I’ve ever seen in my life, then you need to organize, and you need to raise the cost to people like Joe Biden, because that is the only thing they care about. The U.S. is attempting to manage the Middle East with the system that it put in place since the Arab Spring. And the Palestinians are just kind of an annoyance to that system. They don’t want to — the U.S. doesn’t want Saudi Arabia to have its ruling family shaken, the Jordanian ruling family shaken. These are the — but we have to raise the domestic cost for these policies, which, like Mark said, are really, truly and genuinely genocidal in nature, that it’s dramatic.

So, I would say to people that, you know, you know what’s going on, so stop thinking about it all that much and just start acting. Go to your houses of worship, go to your community centers, go wherever it is that you go, and talk to people and say, “Look, let’s go talk to our congressman in person. Let’s demand a meeting.” If you’re a veteran, put your uniform on and go — I’ve had several veterans reach out to me — put your uniform on and go talk to your congressperson. Film it. Put it online. Do anything you can to embarrass these people and to make it obvious to the world that they are not acting with normal human decency in mind. They’re acting with purely cold, almost Mafia-like political calculations. And the only way that we are going to stop this is by raising the cost to them of doing so. That’s what I would say to people, I think.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Sidhwa, of course, the justification, the continued justification, for Israel’s assault is the fact that they’re targeting Hamas militants. You treated — we’ve just heard from both of you about the number of children you treated, mostly, as you said, elementary school children or below the age of elementary school. You dealt with numerous mass casualty events while you were at the European Hospital in Khan Younis. How many military-age males did you treat?

DR. FEROZE SIDHWA: I can count them on one hand. I think it was probably four or five. And not one of them — you know, obviously, like Mark said, the people who are actually in Hamas or the other Palestinian militant organizations is an extremely small number, even of military-age men, in the Gaza Strip. But we treated a hand — literally a handful, five at the very most, that I can remember, military-age men, while we were there, for any injury at all. And the overwhelming consensus in the hospital was that if actual militants were to come in, they would actually come in with their — I don’t know the technical terms, but with their unit and with their commander, and they would be spirited away from the hospital as soon as they were well, well enough to be taken out of the hospital. That never happened once to anybody, so I seriously doubt that I encountered a single combatant while I was there. It was a 100% civilian — I think the people I cared for were 100% civilians, even including the military-age men that I took care of.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Finally, Dr. Perlmutter, if you could say, you know, what you think the medical needs there are now? I mean, there are no fully functional hospitals left at all. You’ve said that you could operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for years, and not make a dent, because the needs are so great. So, what can be done for people in Gaza suffering in this way as this war goes on?

DR. MARK PERLMUTTER: All right, two points. First, I’ve seen more orthopedic injuries in my two weeks there than I have seen in my entire 30-plus years of practicing and the additional 10 years of training before that. If I operated 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it would take me 20 years for me to make a notable dent, a minuscule dent, in the amount of orthopedic-alone pathology that’s there. The extent of damage, of carnage is that widespread.

In order to make a difference, it’s not by supplying supplies. It’s by eliminating the genocide. It’s eliminating — it’s imposing controls on Israel. It’s by reaching out, as Dr. Sidhwa said, to our senators. That letter that you read, I sent a copy of that to every single sitting U.S. senator. I called Chuck Schumer’s office from Gaza while I’m being bombed, and spoke to his secretary and said, “The noises in the background are American bombs being dropped by American warplanes, gifted, essentially, to Israel. And I’m in fear that they’re going to kill me. I’m in bigger fear that it’s going to keep me up all night with another dozen shredded children and women.” As Dr. Sidhwa said, I don’t think I saw one person who would qualify as a military combatant. The victims were civilian, virtually 100%.

I would echo his plea to please contact your state senator and House of Representative and the federal ones, as well. Share with them the knowledge that the sterilized history that they’ve been receiving and the sterilized facts that they have been receiving are, in fact, inaccurate, that there’s true bloodshed that’s going on, at our hands, that we’re paying for. And they need to wake up and realize that it’s not the payoff from the Israeli political action committee that really matters to keep their jobs moving forward and their reelection occurring. What really should matter is the ethical basis of what they’re charged to do, and that’s to maintain the viability of the United States’s image and our leader as a democratic nation supporting perfect ideals, and not advancing their own personal agenda by supporting a state that’s recklessly killing innocent women and children, something that every American should stand against.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mark Perlmutter, we want to thank you so much for joining us, orthopedics hand surgery specialist, president of the World Surgical Foundation, immediate past president of the International College of Surgeons, speaking to us from now his hospital in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in his scrubs, and Dr. Feroze Sidhwa, trauma surgeon, speaking to us from Salt Lake City, heading back to Stockton, California, where he works. They just returned Monday from volunteering at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. We’ll link to the piece they co-authored in Common Dreams, “We Have Never Seen Cruelty Like Israel’s Genocide in Gaza.”

When we come back, we go to Arizona for an update on how Republicans blocked efforts to repeal a 160-year-old near-total abortion ban. Back in 20 seconds.

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