As It Happens

Canadian shot in Gaza says he was 'clearly marked' as a doctor

Dr. Tarek Loubani was treating gunshot wound patients in Gaza on Monday when he became one.

'We just want to make sure that if people get into trouble, we're there to help them,' says Dr. Tarek Loubani

Dr. Tarek Loubani, a physician from London, Ont., was treating gunshot wound patients in Gaza when he became one himself. (Khalil Hamra/Associated Press)

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Dr. Tarek Loubani decided not to use the tourniquet in his pocket to stop the bleeding when he was shot in the legs at the Gaza border on Monday.

The London, Ont., physician was treating injured Palestinians when he was shot.  But he says his wound wasn't serious enough to waste precious medical supplies.

Israeli forces killed at least 60 Palestinians, most by gunfire, and injured more than 2,700 since Monday at the border, Reuters reports. Israel says it is defending its border and has accused Hamas of using protests as a cover for attacks.

Loubani is on the ground in Gaza. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the unfolding situation. 

Here is part of that conversation.

Dr. Loubani, what were you doing just before you were shot?

I was away from the protest scene in a relative lull. There was no smoke or tear gas. There had been lots of that earlier in the day.

I was with my medical team of first responders. They were mostly paramedics.

We had just resupplied for tourniquets, which we used to stop bleeding and people who are shot in the arms or legs.

All of a sudden I heard an incredibly loud bang. I ended up on the ground and the first thing I yell, just as loud as I could, was, "F--k."

And you you were shot in the leg.

I was shot in both legs. The bullet came from the left part of my left leg, went through the left leg and then through the right leg.

The right leg is minor — didn't hit any bones or any muscles. The left leg, though, is really sore. Didn't hit any bones, but definitely did some damage.

Loubani says he was wearing clothing clearly marking him as medical staff when he was shot by Israeli forces. (Submitted: Tarek Loubani)

Did you have a tourniquet that you could use on your own legs?

I had a tourniquet in my pocket. We had eight left. 

The rescuer, a paramedic named Musa [Abuhassanin], came to me and he sort of made a gallows humour comment and then started taking care of me, looked at my leg, and said: "What do you think, doctor? Should we put on a tourniquet?"

I looked at it and I knew that if we were in London or anywhere else we'd tourniquet this thing, but we just had too few and I knew there'd be so many more worse injuries, so I said no.

We bandaged it up as best as we could. It bled like hell for a while, but obviously I was fine. And the tourniquet did get used — the one in my pocket and the other eight were used over the next few hours.

That doctor you just mentioned, a member of your team, Musa, what happened to him?

Musa's my rescuer. He was a very bright guy. Incredible man. 

About an hour after he rescued me, he was trying to get another patient, and ended up getting shot in the chest.

Unfortunately, he died.

Musa Abuhassanin, right, was a first responder in Gaza who was shot in the chest and killed. Moumin Hmaid, left, is a paramedic who took a bullet to the right ankle. (Submitted by Tarek Loubani)

How many of the medics who were there treating people were injured or killed yesterday?

There were 17 paramedics who were injured plus myself, and then Musa was killed. 

It's unfortunate because we, as a medical team, always hope for and expect some protection. We're not there politically. 

We just want to make sure that if people get into trouble, we're there to help them.

Were you wearing anything, any symbol of being a medic and being a doctor?

I was wearing full hospital greens — London Health Sciences greens, actually, from London, Ont., which I'm going to have to explain to linen why they have bullet holes.

A team of medical volunteers from left, Mohammed Migdad, Hassan Abusaada; Tarek Loubani, Moumin Silmi, Youssef Almamlouk, Musa Abuhassanin and an unknown volunteer. (Submitted by Tarek Loubani)

Do you believe that members of your team the medics were targeted by the Israelis?

I don't know. I'm a doctor and doctors don't make conclusions, they make observations.

My observation is that I was clearly marked and I was shot. 

I don't feel I was caught in crossfire, but I can't speak to the intentions of the sniper who shot me.

The Israelis say they're using lethal force only to protect their border that they have the right to defend. They say that those who were there were trying to attack the fence or threaten border securityWhat do you say to that?

Any doctor will tell you that a peaceful protester shouldn't be summarily executed.

Nobody was armed, from what I saw. Everybody was there peacefully.

Yes, some Palestinians threw rocks. Some Palestinians burned tires. I've frankly seen worse in downtown Toronto protests.

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They say also that there were squads or groups among the protesters who were armed with firearms, who were using explosive devices and trying to attack the fence. Did you see anything like that?

No, I didn't see anything like that.

I can tell you if these gangs did exist within the group, they didn't represent the 1,400 people who were shot by live fire. They certainly didn't represent the ... people who were who were killed.

Do the hospitals in Gaza have what they need to treat all the people who are wounded?

There are no resources here to treat the patients who are needed to be treated. And that's not new. And that's not necessary. It's a completely artificial situation.

Because of the blockade?

Yes, we know that the blockade is stopping medications from entering. We have a shortage of many of essential medications.

I, as a doctor, very seldom give give anesthesia to my patients who I need to sew, because there is no anesthesia. Sometimes I use equipment that is very old and rotting, literally rusting, because that's the only equipment to use.

How long will it take do you think before you're able to return to work? How is your recovery going?

I'm highly motivated to get back on my feet.

My days on the frontline are over for now. I can't go back.  ... But I can be in the emergency if I can get up on my legs.

Anybody will tell you a doctor is a bad patient, but I'm trying as hard as I can to get back on my feet so that I can get back to the hospital where I feel like I'm needed.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Dr. Tarek Loubani as saying there were 18 paramedics who were injured. In fact, Loubani says 17 paramedics were injured.