Mads Gilbert

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Mads Gilbert

Mads Fredrik Gilbert (born June 2, 1947, Porsgrunn) is a Norwegian doctor, activist and politician from the far left revolutionary socialist party Red.[1][2] He received his PhD at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.[3] He is a specialist in anesthesiology and a leader of the emergency medicine department of University Hospital of North Norway, and has been adjunct professor (professor II) of emergency medicine at the University of Tromsø since 1995.

Gilbert has a broad range of international experiences, especially in locations where medical and political issues merge. He has done volunteer work at a kibbutz.[4] Later he became actively involved with solidarity work concerning Palestinians since the 1970s, he has served as a doctor during numerous periods in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. His efforts have been central to leading the city of Tromsø, since 2001 a twin town of Gaza, to claim to be the city that has sent more health workers to the Palestinian territories than any other in the world.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Gilbert was born 2 June 1947 in Porsgrunn, Telemark to a family of French Huguenot ancestry. His father Mads Fredrik Gilbert, was a doctor, while his mother was a nurse. His family soon relocated to his grandmothers one bedroom apartment in Oslo and he grew up in the borough of Majorstua until the age of 10 and later in Lambertseter. In the mid 1960s he enrolled in the Oslo Cathedral School.[6] After finishing high school, he briefly studied veterinary medicine, however he switched to general medicine following an accident involving his younger brother. He graduated from the University of Oslo in 1973.

He describes growing up in a "very political household" with lots of political discussions. He describes his parents as well informed about the world and his father specifically as very well read. He describes his mother as an inspiration, who taught him to think critically and awareness about siding with the weak.[7]

Medical career[edit]

Since 1976, he has mainly worked at the anaesthesiology department at the hospital in Tromsø, the current University Hospital of North Norway (UNN). For a while he worked at Gravdal hospital in Lofoten. In 1991 he was at the University of Tromsø for a thesis on metabolism and blood circulation during anaesthesia. He did his doctoral research in the United States at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

The Bågenholm case[edit]

Main article: Anna Bågenholm

Following a skiing accident in January 2000 Anna Bågenholm was trapped for more than an hour in icy waters and was pronounced clinically dead, but survived after the efforts of Gilbert and his team.[8] Her body temperature was 13.7°C, which represented the lowest survived body temperature recorded.[9] Gilbert was awarded Årets nordlending 2000 ("Northern Norwegian of the year, 2000", by the readership of the Tromsø newspaper Nordlys.[10][11][12] Gilbert's breakthrough in treating extreme hypothermia has been chronicled in Cheating death : the doctors and medical miracles that are saving lives against all odds by Sanjay Gupta, as well as being featured in CNN's television program Another Day: Cheating Death.

In 2013, Gilbert was made a commander of the Order of St. Olav for his overall contributions to emergency medicine.[13]

Gaza activism[edit]

Gaza War[edit]

Gilbert arrived on emergency assignment for the Norwegian Aid Committee (NORWAC) with the surgeon Erik Fosse to support the humanitarian effort at al-Shifa Hospital during the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict,[14][15][16] a period when foreign journalists were barred from entering the Gaza Strip.[17] As international media reported from outside the conflict zone, Gilbert maintained frequent contact with Norwegian media,[18][19] as well as segments of the world press, including CNN, BBC, ABC and Al Jazeera.[14]

Following a grenade strike to a Gaza City vegetable market on January 3, Gilbert sent an SMS text to his Norwegian and international contacts, with an appeal for all who read it to pass it on.[20][21][22]

The ensuing response sparked reports of Gilbert's message on a global scale,[24] and scores of declarations of support to the Norwegian Palestine Committee.[25]

Asked about this incident in an interview with Al Jazeera, Gilbert answered: "...people in Gaza must know that they are not on their own, many people are with them, although we are not there but we are with them and they must not give up, for the people of the free world ponder on your patience and inspire from your strength. If you give up then the people behind you will give up..."[26]

The doctors were "received as heroes" by the Norwegian public,[27] and received praise from several commentators. Among critics were right-wing Norwegian FrP party leader Siv Jensen who described Gilbert as a "local politician from Rødt", criticizing that he has been permitted without censorship to act as a voice of anti-Israel propaganda.[11][28] Melanie Phillips, a columnist for The Spectator and Jennifer Lawinski for Fox News, voiced criticism similar to Siv Jensen's.[29][30]

Jensen's statements have in turn been strongly criticized by Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre, who called her statements "confused" and said that "It is outrageous that she puts into question the integrity of practitioners, who I am sure treat the wounded and injured as they need it. Gilbert and I could completely disagree on political matters, but not on the matters at hand [treatment of civilian casualties].[31][32]

On January 5, after 10 days of the Israeli heavy air bombardment on Gaza strip, BBC news reporter Rushdi Abu Alouf in Gaza interviewed Dr. Mads Gilbert on the status inside Gaza's AL-Shifa Hospital. In the interview Dr. Gilbert stated that an overwhelming majority of the casualties he had treated were civilians, and women and children alone made up 25% of the death toll, and 45% of the wounded.[33][34]

On January 8, 2009, while in Gaza, Mads Gilbert was in a video which appeared on CNN which showed the brother of a Palestinian TV producer dying while Gilbert and another doctor worked to save him. This video became subject to controversy as several pro-Israel bloggers made accusations that the scene was staged.[35] World News and Features, the camera crew's employer, and the producer himself denounced the allegations. CNN also stated on their web site that they stand by the video.[36][37] Two weeks later, the CNN published a video report on their website refuting the bloggers' allegations point by point. Two independent doctors who were shown the video said that they had no doubt that the hospital scene and Gilbert's work was genuine.[35]


In the period that followed Gilbert and Fosse's extraction from Gaza, they continued to be covered in Norwegian and international media. In a special report to the medical journal The Lancet, Gilbert and Fosse described the Gaza situation as a "nightmarish havoc", stating that they had "witnessed the most horrific war injuries in men, women and children of all ages in numbers almost too large to comprehend".[38]

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor responded to the Lancet report by criticizing Gilbert for "spreading vicious lies".[38] In statements to Associated Press Palmor claimed, "Dr. Gilbert is notorious for his radical far left opinions and his systematic demonizaton of Israel. He has already accused Israel of almost every nightmarish crime in the book only to ignore the refutation of every one of his allegations", adding, "His stories are worthy of Dante's imagination but have been proved time and again to be far removed from reality. It is a pity that serious members of the medical profession should allow themselves to be dragged into an excessive of mad Mads".[38]

In a response to these statements Gilbert stated: "This is a part of the propaganda war. We are not surprised and take this very calmly. We tell the truth and do not need to lie. If Israel think we are lying, they can just open the borders and let the world's press into Gaza. Then one will soon find out who is lying."[39]

In 2009 he received the Fritt Ord Honorary Award together with Erik Fosse.[40]

Operation Pillar of Defence[edit]

Mads Gilbert returned to Gaza and the al-Shifa hospital. The night between November 20 and 21, he wrote this report. A cease-fire was declared at 8 PM the same day.


Opinion on the September 11 attacks[edit]

In a statement made to Dagbladet in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Gilbert voiced contextual support for the attacks. He said that quote: "also the suppressed have a moral right to attack the United States with the weapons they had to create. Dead civilians are the same whether Americans, Palestinians or Iraqis" and he continued "Terror is a bad weapon, but the answer is yes I support hte attack, within the context I have mentioned"[2] His statement to Dagbladet was: "The attack on New York did not come as a surprise with the politics the West has followed the last decades. I am upset by the terrorist attack, but I am at least as upset over the suffering that the US has caused. It is in this context that 5000 dead has to be seen. If the U.S. government has a legitimate right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq, the oppressed has a moral right to attack the U.S. with the weapons they may create as well. Dead civilians are the same whether they are Americans, Palestinians or Iraqis." When asked if he supported a terrorist attack against the US he answered: "Terror is a poor weapon, but my answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned."[41]

The incident was described by Nordlys editor Hans Kristian Amundsen as "probably the stupidest thing he's ever done", citing it as proof that Gilbert is a "hopeless politician".[2] In an interview with the Norwegian news agency NTB in 2009, Gilbert described his own statements in the aftermath of 9/11 as "unwise and ill-considered", stressing that he is completely against terror against civilians.[42]

Boycott of Médecins Sans Frontières[edit]

Though profiling himself as a humanitarian aid worker, Gilbert critizised and encouraged people to boycott the humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières, for not taking a position in a conflict, and criticized the political line of this statement.[43] He also worked against the training of new Norwegian medical personnel assigned to the ISAF forces in Afghanistan. His activism resulted in the ceasing of training of medical personnel at his medical department, and a following shortfall of qualified doctors in both the Norwegian military force and humanitarian effort in Afghanistan.[44]

On being a doctor as well as a politician, Gilbert has said the two roles are indistinguishable, and that "there is little in medicine that isn't politics".[45]

Personal life[edit]

Gilbert currently lives in Tromsø (in the Arctic Circle), he has resided here ever since landing a temporary job at the local hospital in 1974. He explained that upon first seeing the town, he felt "intensely" that he had come home.

He was married to journalist Bente von der Lippe (1947–83) with whom he had one daughter, Siri (born 1977) who is also a medical doctor. He also has daughter Anna (born 1981) from another relationship as well as two grandchildren. He is currently unmarried.[7] He enjoys kayaking during the summer, and mountaineering during the winter, with the Lyngen Alps his favourite peaks.[7] He describes himself as a "practising agnostic, with a recurring need for prayer".[46]


Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse have written a book called Eyes in Gaza, which is an account of their time in Gaza.[47]



  1. ^ Fosland, Arne. "Fem drept under bombing av sykehus i Gaza". Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Gulseth, Hege Guldal, (January 6, 2009). "Mads (61) er stemmen fra Gaza".  (Norwegian)
  3. ^ Deep Journal, (January 30, 2009). Unconventional weapons used in Gaza, says Norwegian surgeon based in Gaza
  4. ^ Arbetaren Zenit, Nr 21/2009, page 9
  5. ^ Tromsø Kommune (June 1, 2001). Ordføreren til Gaza (Norwegian)
  6. ^ Johansen, John Magne (27 February 2009). "Stjerneklart med Mads Gilbert". Stjerneklart. NRK. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Okkenhaug, Knut. "Gilbert ville slåss for Israel". Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  8. ^ BBC News, (January 28, 2000). Skier revived from clinical death
  9. ^ The Lancet, Volume 355, Issue 9201, Pages 375 - 376, 29 January 2000. Resuscitation from accidental hypothermia of 13·7°C with circulatory arrest
  10. ^ Nordlys, 23 December 2000, Årets nordlending
  11. ^ a b Mollan, Aud (January 9, 2009). "Livredderen fra helvete". Adresseavisen (in Norwegian). p. 38. 
  12. ^ Bøhle, Solveig, "Bryr seg mye og ofte".  (Norwegian)
  13. ^ NTB: St. Olavs Orden til Mads Gilbert (Norwegian) Aftenposten, 6 May 2013
  14. ^ a b Rossland, Irene Elisabeth; Garden, Brita, (January 5, 2009). "Leger som verdens pressekorps".  (Norwegian)
  15. ^ Shanmugaratnam, Yohan, Klassekampen (January 5, 2009). "De dør mellom hendene på oss".  (Norwegian)
  16. ^ Skrunes, Trond Olav (January 4, 2009). - Situasjonen er forferdelig (Norwegian)
  17. ^ The Associated Press, International Herald Tribune (January 2, 2009). "Israel maintains ban on journalists entering Gaza". 
  18. ^ Klungtveit, Harald S.; Fransson, Line (January 4, 2009). - Mange barn og en gravid kvinne blant de skadde (Norwegian)
  19. ^ Gundersen, Anja Tho, (January 4, 2009). Gilbert: - Vi vasser i blod og død (Norwegian)
  20. ^ a b Rodum, Elisabeth, Aftenposten (January 4, 2009). "Angriper sentrum av Gaza by".  (Norwegian)
  21. ^ a b Fondenes, Eivind, (January 4, 2009). Tekstmelding fra krigssonen (Norwegian)
  22. ^ The Sterile Eye (January 4, 2009). Norwegian doctor in Gaza: - We’re wading in blood
  23. ^ Glesnes, Gjermund, (January 4, 2009). Sammenligner Gaza med dødsriket Hades (Norwegian)
  24. ^ International reporting of SMS text:
  25. ^ Johansen, Bente H.; Lysvold, Susanne, (January 5, 2009). Kjedemelding skapte telefonstorm (Norwegian)
  26. ^, (January 25, 2009)
  27. ^ unknown DagenMagazinet (January 16, 2009)
  28. ^ Leader, Bergensavisen (January 9, 2009). Både for og mot krig (Norwegian)
  29. ^ Lawinski, Jennifer, (January 8, 2009). High-Profile Doctor in Gaza Called an 'Apologist for Hamas'
  30. ^ Phillips, Melanie, The Spectator (January 6, 2009). The Hamas Broadcasting Corporation (Ctd)
  31. ^ "Refser Jensens Gilbert-kritikk" (in Norwegian). 2009-01-08. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  32. ^ Johnsen, Alf Bjarne; Johansen, Marianne; Hegvik, Gunn Kari, (January 9, 2009). Støre: - Legeutspill en skamplett (Norwegian)
  33. ^ BBC Gaza: Mads Gilbert interview in AL-Shifa hospital
  34. ^ (January 5, 2009). Casualties rise in Gaza offensive
  35. ^ a b CNN (January 22, 2009)
  36. ^ (January 9, 2009). Gaza video genuine, journalists say
  37. ^ CNN Gaza: Cameraman captures death of younger brother
  38. ^ a b c Cheng, Maria. AP News (January 14, 2009). Doctors call for halt to Gaza assault
  39. ^ Pettersen, Egil, TV2 Nettavisen (January 15, 2009). Gilbert: - Meningsløst av Israel (Norwegian)
  40. ^ "Priser – Fritt Ords Honnør" (in Norwegian). Fritt Ord. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  41. ^ Sarastuen, Kristian, (September 30, 2001). Forsvarer angrepet på USA (Norwegian)
  42. ^ "Gilbert angrer på terroruttalelse" (in Norwegian). Nordlys. January 12, 2009. 
  43. ^ "Boikotter TV-aksjonen". 21 Oct 2006. 
  44. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  45. ^ Duckert, Hege, (December 16, 2000). "Uværsdoktoren".  (Norwegian)
  46. ^ Duckert, Hege. "Uværsdoktoren". Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  47. ^