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Gaza: “Wits will enable the debate”

- By Vivienne Rowland

  Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Adam Habib has reaffirmed Wits’ commitment to enabling debate and objectivity on issues of social importance at the launch of a medical report on the Gaza war, despite being requested not to speak at the event.

Habib said that despite Israeli ambassador Arthur Lenk’s request, he felt compelled to speak because he needed to reiterate Wits’ stance on meaningful public engagement.

“I am not so sure that that is always true that any debate should have both sides of the story… Wits is committed to enabling debate, but enabling a debate does not mean that at every event you have all sides of the view. Though, if there is an alternative view to be presented, then this institution enables that environment.”

“It does not mean that in any way, this institution can demand of all of its events or all of its staff members a sense of neutrality, because these issues are not about neutrality. Academics by their very nature take positions,” said Habib. Listen to Habib.

Read the Israeli ambassador’s letter to Habib.

The launch of the report, titled No Safe Place: a report from an independent medical fact-finding mission to Gaza 2014, follows Operation Protective Edge, written by eight renowned international medical experts who visited the area last year as members of an independent medical team under the sponsorship of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and its Palestinian counterparts, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights-Gaza, the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights-Gaza. Access the report or click here.

Professor Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven from the Wits Department of Family Medicine and Associate Professor Louis Reynolds, a retired intensive care pediatrician and pulmonologist from the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and the University of Cape Town, presented their findings from site visits to Gaza as part of the team in August and September 2014.

Investigating the health implications of Operation Protective Edge through interviews with 68 people injured in the Gaza Strip, forensic analysis of 370 photographs, interviews with nine Palestinian medical professionals and the review of dozens of medical files, the team documented the failure of adequate warning mechanisms, the absence of escape routes, the collapse of coordination for evacuating the wounded, and strikes against rescue teams increasing the number of civilian casualties.

“The 2014 attacks were deadlier and more devastating than the previous two wars. Children as young as seven years old have lived through three wars. There has been no or little chance of rehabilitation for them,” said Reynolds.

Baldwin-Ragaven and Reynolds shared visuals of a city in ruins, bombed buildings and empty shells of what were once proud beacons of construction to families, backed by victims’ and survivor’s tales of suffering and hopelessness in the wake of the wars.

“The human factor is often forgotten. People are wounded, people die and there is a lack of adequate medical help, the casualties just become too much to handle,” said Baldwin-Ragaven. Listen to their presentation.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion about the implications for health care workers in South Africa between Habib, Baldwin-Ragaven, Reynolds; and two fourth year medical students and members of Student Advocates for Health, Xola Nohaji-Mkoko and Vuyelwa Ntshangase. Listen to their comments.

Listen to the Q and A.

Read the op-ed piece in The Star on the report. 

More information: or click here