A PALESTINIAN surgeon whose experience in Gaza was cited in the genocide case brought against Israel in the UN’s top court is running to be the rector of a leading Scottish university.

Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah - an alumnus of Glasgow University and a world-leading expert on war-injured patients and children - said he felt a “sense of obligation towards a place which was extremely formative in my life” after students asked him to enter the race.

“It was the essence of the place, it was the spirit of the place,” he said. “When I went there, Winnie Mandela was a rector.

“It was an extremely internationalist university with solidarity groups with Nicaragua, El Salvador, Palestine.

“That Glasgow is the Glasgow that I remember. I want to be able to impact that.”

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Since graduating, Abu-Sittah has had an extensive career in reconstructive surgery and helping the war-wounded. He has worked in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Palestine as well as Beirut, where he set up a program providing free cleft care for refugee children, a discipline he learned training at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London.

Abu-Sittah, who was born in Kuwait to Palestinians forced to leave their homeland during the 1948 Nakba, has frequently worked in Gaza over the last 25 years. He says he views his work in the region as “an extension of my Palestinian identity”.

He was again in Gaza in the immediate wake of the October 7 attacks on Israel. It was his experience working as a medic during Israel’s devastating siege that saw him cited in South Africa’s genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

His quote from the ICJ submission reads:

“There was a girl with just her whole body covered in shrapnel. She was nine. I ended up having to change and clean these wounds with no anaesthetic and no analgesic. I managed to find some intravenous paracetamol to give her … her Dad was crying, I was crying, and the poor child was screaming …”

Abu-Sittah (below) said that silence from the West in response to what he saw in Gaza was a key reason he accepted entreaties from several student groups to run to be Glasgow University rector.

The National:

In his manifesto to be rector, the surgeon wrote: “Academic institutions in the West have been completely silent about the deliberate targeting of universities, most recently al-Israa University – the last which was left standing in Gaza.”

Reading his statement, he added: “And the killing of their students, the killing of their own.

“One person who I had met in Glasgow on one of my previous visits was a very proud alumna of Glasgow University and she was killed by an Israeli air raid. There was deathly silence.”

Abu-Sittah said that another “critical” reason he decided to run to become Glasgow University’s rector was learning of the institution’s investments in arms manufacturers like BAE Systems, which he says are “putting the university not just morally at risk but also legally at risk”.

The surgeon went on: “If the ICJ says that there is a plausible case that this is a genocidal war, as the part-owner of BAE, Glasgow University needs to look at the potential for future litigation. That is critical.

“Morally, academic institutions should not be owners of arms manufacturers. It flies in the face of the message of academia - particularly for a university with such a long and distinguished history in medicine.

“So you think, why would you want to be in the killing game as a university that has shaped human life in a positive way?”

Abu-Sittah is looking to push Glasgow University to divest “shares worth more than £6.8 million in arms companies”, as through his medical career on the frontline, Abu-Sittah has seen the human impacts these weapons have.

“I think from the very beginning I had an interest in war surgery,” he said. “Even when I was a medical student in Glasgow, I went as a volunteer to Iraq during the first Gulf War. I think it's the desire to make a difference.

“Then what happens is, the more you do it, the more experience you get, the more morally obliged you feel to be there. I mean, if you're not there, there's a good chance there's no one else there.”

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Abu-Sittah co-founded the Conflict Medicine Program at the Global Health Institute in 2015 and has published textbooks on war-injured patients and children.

In his bid to become rector, the surgeon is up against Labour MSP Paul Sweeney, Scots comic Susie McCabe, and the incumbent Lady Rita Rae, a judge and former senator of the College of Justice.

Abu-Sittah said: “I don't see [that] there's a division between the issues that affect students in Glasgow and people across the globe - not just with regards to divestment from arms, but the corporatisation of university education, issues surrounding student poverty, issues surrounding gender-based violence in campuses, these are indivisible.

“These are all part of where we have ended up as a human race. I can't see that you can compartmentalise the struggle.”

The Glasgow University rector elections are to be held on March 25-26.