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Report on Occupied Hebron

Occupied Hebron 7/1/02
From Amanda Ream

At a private hospital in Hebron (West Bank), a city under military curfew, the medical director, Dr. T., shared his thoughts. This hospital suffered attacks from tanks in March of this year, leaving the two top floors unusable. The staff had requested an international presence because they anticipated a possible military intrusion and, it seemed to me, to try to calm nerves there a little too.

"Oppression is felt by everyone here. One day is enough; just look at someone's face." Dr. T. listed some of the different kinds of emotional and mental problems that he sees in hospital patients as a result of the occupation-cases of neurosis, psychosis, anxiety, tension, nervous breakdowns. It is typically not until these turn into physical pain, like chest pains, that people will consider getting medical attention. And when there is no "legitimate" physical problem found, people will come back with stomach pains, head pains.the hospital is the only outlet for treatment.

Few patients can come to the hospital, however, because of the curfews, and because the economic situation is so dire that most people cannot afford medical treatment. There are around 100 beds in the hospital, but there are not more than 10 patients there now. Ambulances are the only civilian vehicles that can travel in the streets, so recovered patients usually have to wait 6-24 hours before leaving the hospital, since they have to wait for an ambulance to bring them home.

There is a shortage of ambulances. In addition, ambulances are routinely stopped and searched, and sometimes shot at by the army. Many patients have died while waiting at military checkpoints; some bleed to death with soldiers watching. Many women have given birth at checkpoints, and many women and babies have died needlessly in childbirth.

Dr. T's family is in Bangladesh. He cannot leave Palestine to join his family, and his family is not allowed to come to Palestine. He has not seen his wife or children for two years, when they left Palestine so that his baby daughter could have lifesaving cardiac surgery in the United States. After the surgery, Israeli officials would not let his wife, baby, and two older daughters back into Palestine, so they went to his wife's parents in Bangladesh.

Since Hebron is under military curfew, the doctor can rarely even go to his own apartment or see his mother, just a few miles away from the hospital.

The hospital's chief cardiac surgeon, an Egyptian doctor, has not been allowed back into Palestine for five months now, "thanks to our cousins" (the Israelis), said Dr. T. The cardiac unit at the hospital, which serves over half a million people, has been completely paralyzed.

The hospital staff are basically stuck inside at all times, day and night. The hospital needs necessary, sometimes life-saving medicine and equipment from Jerusalem, but cannot get it. Private hospitals, the doctor told us, are being "drowned." They're on their way out because of shortages of supplies, unemployment, patients' inability to pay, and so on. There is a systematic destruction of Palestine's infrastructure, which includes the health sector. "Primary health has gone," the doctor stated. He believes his hospital will only last for another 6-18 months if the situation remains as it is now.

The occupation is also causing major disruption in the education sector. Many students cannot appear for critical exams and have to wait another year to take them; some are never able to take them at all. Louis, an international, commented that this was the strangulation of a society, calling it "sociocide." Dr. T. agreed, adding, "This is the safest way of killing. The world does not like to see killing with blood, so this is the easiest way, the safest way.In this killing there is no blood. But there is killing, and it's indiscriminate. Children and sick people are the first in line."

He continued, "Soldiers hear ladies screaming and don't do anything. Sometimes they make fun of it. When you block the roads in and out of a village with mud and rocks, with soldiers 100 meters away, and a lady walks on top and slips and falls, and the soldiers laugh at her, this is not a military action. This is humiliation. If a whole nation is humiliated, what do you expect of them?

"Almost all the internationals I've met agree that the only reason for keeping 2.5 million Palestinians under siege and curfews is to destroy their infrastructure and to humiliate them. It has nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

"Think about it. We are human beings. All the humiliation of the last 50 years has produced 40, 50 suicide bombers, and almost all of them did it for revenge. The way the Israelis are killing our people is very frustrating. Killing an individual with an anti-tank missile in his residential area, sometimes with his children and family members, is very cruel. Think of a missile that can shatter a well-armored tank hitting your son, father, brother or even your friend!

"The Palestinians are aware that everything done by the Israeli soldiers-that everything is made by the U.S. The Israelis are doing this intentionally. F16's, Apaches, rockets, missiles and even the bullets are tagged with 'MADE IN THE USA.'

"Also, we don't have military zones. We don't have a front or a battlefield," he added, explaining that it is civilian streets, homes, churches, shops, and so on that are under attack. "The F16 planes are hitting residential areas. The Palestinians have nothing to defend themselves; they have no planes, tanks, heavy military equipment. Americans don't know what this is like, to have tanks in their streets. It is really very painful."

The doctor went on to say that "observers are practically useless" (referring to international groups that are not allowed to "intervene"), "but the presence of internationals here makes the Israeli army polite. When you are not here, we cannot sleep.

"They usually attack by surprise. In March they shelled the hospital for four consecutive nights. There were 16 anti-tank missiles the first night, destroying windows and damaging the 4th and 5th floors. We had no time to shift the seriously ill patients to safer places. The situation was horrible. We're talking about a hospital, which is supposed to be a neutral and safe place. We asked why, they [the Israeli army] said it was an accident. We said if it was an accident, then we are entitled to some compensation. So then they said someone was shooting at them from the hospital window."

The doctor talked a little about the behavior of the Israeli military. "This is the beginning of the disintegration of the mighty Israeli army," he said. "In 1967, they were happy. They were winning the war. They gave candy to the children. What they're doing now is a sign of defeat-beating children in front of their fathers, humiliating women, etc. The difference is very clear, in many ways. At that time [1967], they did not loot or steal, which is happening now. They never touched a girl. They are doing this now-pushing women, forcing a female to expose herself." A person from our group asked if he also meant rape. He said he didn't know, because that is a big issue of shame for a whole family, especially when it's a large family. It affects the marriage system, so it's not reported.

"The Israeli army is crossing the red line, causing great hatred and anger among the Muslims and Arabs surrounding Israel." Sharon, he said, is creating and aggravating the pretext that he says he is defending Israelis from.

A tour of the damaged floors of the hospital revealed the use of "anti-personnel" shells, or "cluster shells," which are supposed to be illegal under international law. "I have seen how these have cut entire arteries," said the doctor. The walls and ceilings were gouged by shrapnel, and all of the windows were broken.

In Hebron, there are about 1,500 police and soldiers protecting about 450 Israeli settlers, some of whom are occupying the heart of the city, others live outside the city. Settler roads can easily be seen from the hospital windows. Palestinians cannot cross them. Also visible are thriving green fields of trees on land confiscated by settlers, who use 80% of the region's water even though they are a small minority of the population.

Looking out another window, we could clearly see a tall house that is currently occupied by the military, from which soldiers frequently shoot at Palestinians. During our stay in Hebron, hearing sniper shooting was commonplace.

At this hospital, the wounds Palestinians show up with portray the barbarity of sniper shooting. Dr. T. showed us an x-ray of a leg that had been precisely shot through the middle. Also, he said he has seen three children who came into the emergency room within 45 minutes of each other, all from the same area, all of whom had been shot through the left eye. Apparently, Palestinians are often used as target practice for soldiers.

Soldiers did not come to the hospital while we were there, but the staff was definitely on edge sometimes, sensing movement of the military in the area. Their sense of protection over their patients and co-workers was fierce. For us internationals, it felt like a privilege to get to meet Dr. T., and talk and laugh with him.

"Please tell your people to understand what's going on here before taking sides," Dr. T. said to us. "The best way is to come and see. In Palestine, the Israeli army is not fighting terrorism. They are confiscating Palestinian land, killing them, destroying their houses and farms to accommodate more settlers. This is the real story of the only occupation in the 21st century.

"Helping them is a crime against humanity and against the teachings of all the religions, including Judaism."

ENDS

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