File spoon-archives/postcolonial.archive/postcolonial_2001/postcolonial.0107, message 24


Subject: crippled
Date: Sun, 08 Jul 2001 12:21:37 -0400


Guardian Tuesday May 1, 2001

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4178420,00.html

Mutilated children of a crippled Palestine
Suzanne Goldenberg

The Guardian's award-winning Middle East correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg 
reports on what
the fragmenting bullet has done to the children of the uprising

The beds of the four teenagers take up an entire wall at Wafa hospital in 
Gaza. Tharif Ghora, 16,
was shot in the shoulder when he peeked over a barricade at the Karni border 
crossing on
November 19. Hussein Na'ezi, also 16 and with Tharif a regular at the 
confrontations with Israeli
soldiers at Karni, took a bullet in the neck the day before.

Ahmed Abu Taha, a stick-thin boy with almond eyes, the baby of the ward at 
14, was running
from a tank in Rafah refugee camp on February 18 when a bullet penetrated 
his back. Mahmoud
Sarhan, 16, was shot in the neck.

None of them will walk again. Hussein and Mahmoud will not even be able to 
lower themselves
into wheelchairs because their injuries are higher up the spinal cord.

They - and 1,000 others - are the maimed of the intifada, with permanent 
injuries which range
from a limp or the loss of an eye to paralysis and mental disability: a 
harvest of mutilation which
far outstrips the death toll in the Palestinian uprising.

All four of the boys threw stones at Israeli soldiers and tanks - Tharif 
used to detour past Karni on
his way home from school - and all four were unarmed.

They, like many of the other injured and dead, are the victims of what the 
UN security council
and international and Israeli human rights groups condemn as excessive use 
of force by Israel
against the uprising, now in its seventh month.

A great deal of the criticism has focused on Israel's use of high-velocity 
bullets fired from M-16
assault rifles. When these penetrate flesh they cartwheel through the body 
with explosive force.

None of the four boys is aware that he will spend the rest of his life as 
prisoner of his body. In his
hospital bed, a beaming Tharif is being fattened up with shwarma, the meat 
sandwiches his
father sells at a roadside stall in Gaza City.

There is an involuntary twitch in his swollen left foot. "You see?" says his 
father, Abid Ghora.
"One day, God willing, he will make a full recovery. Maybe if we can send 
him to Germany, they
can do something for him."

The number of Palestinians left with some form of permanent disability by 
this uprising is not
entirely clear. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the 
injured up to two days ago
numbered 13,296, 20% of the hit by bullets.

The Institute of Community and Public Health at Bir Zeit University, the 
premier Palestinian
academic establishment, sifted through mounds of hospital records to arrive 
at an estimate of at
least 1,000 people who will be permanently afflicted after being hit by 
Israeli live fire, shrapnel, or
rubber-tipped steel bullets.

More than 400 of the injured have been treated for lasting disability at 
three rehabilitation 12
centres in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - the only places of their kind for 
a combined
population of 3m people - and at an eye hospital in occupied Arab East 
Jerusalem. Five hundred
of the seriously injured have been treated abroad, including Tharif and 
Hussein, who were sent to
Jordan.

In the West Bank town of Beit Jala, Elias Saba, a therapist at the Bethlehem 
Arab Society for
Rehabilitation, is trying to coax a response from Amjed Saadi, 18.

"Marhaba," Dr Saba, says to him: hello in Arabic. Sitting in his wheelchair 
with his right hand
clenched in a fist, Mr. Saadi grunts twice in reply.

The doctor asks him to put a hand on his nose; Mr. Saadi shades his eyes.

Mr. Saadi was shot in the head with a high velocity bullet fired by an 
Israeli soldier on October 2,
in the first few days of the intifada. He woke from his coma five weeks ago 
with permanent brain
damage. His eyes are alert but spinal fluid is collecting in a bulge on the 
side of his head, and he
will need more surgery.

Human rights groups have condemned Israel for relying heavily on live 
ammunition, rather than
non-lethal force, and for shooting when its soldiers' lives are not in 
danger.

The Nobel prize-winning US group Physicians for Human Rights blames the 
widespread use of
the M-16 automatic rifle for the high rate of crippling Palestinian 
injuries. The American-designed
weapon is standard issue for Israeli troops.

Daniel Reisner, a colonel in the advocate general's office of the Israeli 
army, admits that some
soldiers have broken the undisclosed rules on opening fire.

"Did all cases in which Israeli army soldiers shoot Palestinians involve 
live fire incidents? I don't
think so," he said. "Could it be that some soldiers reacted with more fire 
than I would have used
in hindsight? Maybe. Some of the reports seem to indicate that."

The chief of staff, General Shauf Mofaz, told commanders last month to 
investigate every fatal
shooting of a Palestinian by Israeli soldiers in circumstances where there 
was no previous
exchange of fire. The army is making criminal investigations in six such 
cases.

Col Reisner argues that many of the soldiers - like a third of the 370 
Palestinians killed to date -
are practically children themselves. "These are kids out of high school. We 
train them, but we
can not make them adults in a day.

"In a lot of the incidents with the Palestinians there has been talk about 
children doing the
fighting, and that they were sending 16-year-olds to throw stones or 
firebombs. We were sending
18-year-olds, only ours are lawful.

"The general staff can give orders, but at the end of the day the person 
that has to carry out
those orders is a 20-year-old kid, and that is in a good situation, with a 
22-year-old commanding
office, and a 25-year-old company commander."

The results - particularly when M-16s are used - are devastating. Other 
high-speed ammunition
passes cleanly through the body, but a lightweight 5.56mm bullet from an 
M-16 tends to tumble
and spin after it penetrates the flesh at a speed of more than 800 metres a 
second. Then it
breaks up into tiny metal fragments.

"They move like an insect, buzzing around your body, said Dr Jumaa Saqqa, 
spokesman for the
Shifa hospital in Gaza City, where the territory's worst injuries are 
treated.

"On the outside of the body you just see a small inlet - one centimetre big 
- but if there is no exit
we find hundreds of small metallic pieces inside."

Most of the new disabled were hurt during the first three months of the 
uprising. Hailed as heroes
in the early days, and handed cheques for up to $1,000 (700) afterwards, 
they are now in danger
of being abandoned on the outer margins of a society on the verge of 
economic collapse, and
itself crippled by a corrupt and undemocratic leadership.

"Most of these injured are relatively young," said Mohammed Abu Tair, an 
orthopaedics
specialist at Mukassad hospital in Jerusalem, "the potential labour force - 
the power of society
itself."

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