Casualty Toll Mounts as Sharon Turns up the Heat
Casualty Toll Mounts as Sharon Turns up the Heat, by Kole/ISM Nablus
NABLUS (West Bank) - In Rafidia Hospital last night there were two sets of people in two different hallways displaying two different emotions. Sameh and I were in the first hallway where Jamal Shadeh Hamdan (21) from the Old City in Nablus was lying in critical condition. His friends and family were in the hallway, wet eyes and slouched forms. One friend recalled how just the night before they had been joking with Jamal, when a friend had stopped them and said, seemingly out of the blue, "We can't joke like this, we have to respect ourselves even if no one on the outside cares."
Jamal was downtown at 'the duwar' last evening, at around 18h30, when the Israeli military came into the Old City firing live rounds and tear gas to disperse a crowd of rock throwing youth. From two occupied houses, military snipers where targeting people in the crowd seemingly at random. Jamal was shot in the back by a live bullet. We were just returning from a photography exhibition put on by the Women's Union - about the destruction imposed on the Old City by the Israeli military in April 2002 - when we arrived upon the scene. There were no armed men visible, only stone throwers, some press people and a handful of medical volunteers. At 23h43, the announcement was made over the loudspeakers at the Jamaah Kbire (Big Mosque) that Jamal had joined the ranks of Nablus' innocent civilian martyrs. 12 hours later Jamal was buried at the local cemetery near the Old City.
Despite this, Haaretz correspondent Arnon Regular - who was nowhere near the clashes, let alone Nablus at the time - recounted the incident today in the following terms:
"In the West Bank city of Nablus, troops shot dead 22-year-old Jamal Hamdan, who was participating in stone-throwing attacks on Israeli soldiers on Saturday. The military said soldiers in a patrol vehicle identified the man as being armed and fired towards him, but Palestinian witnesses said the man was unarmed and was shot by troops who took position in a nearby building to observe the clashes."
The paragraph itself is revealing of the inherent biases of the Israeli media. The euphemisms employed underscore how the reality of the situation here on the ground is often masked from mainstream Israeli society by even 'liberal' dailies like Haaretz.
Thus it is not the Israeli soldiers entering Palestinian cities who are the aggressors, but the symbolic resistance of the Old City's youth with rocks that is portrayed as initiating "attacks on Israeli soldiers." The IDF goes around in 'patrol vehicles' and not armored, stone-proof military jeeps and hummers. Likewise, Israeli military snipers, who were firing into the unarmed crowd, are instead described as "troops who took position in a nearby building to observe the clashes." Such a cumbersome euphemism for the word 'sniper' isn't the product of journalistic convention - which normally seeks to minimize long-winded expressions - but of a desire to hide the reality from the Israeli public of who the real aggressors are.
In the hallway parallel to that were Jamal's family and friends where huddled, there were distinctly different expressions. Two days ago Zeiad and I had come here to visit the family of Ahmed Samir Abu Fidah (10) who lives next to the Tulkarem refugee camp. The boy had been shot in the head during a bloody Israeli military raid on the city that left at least three dead. Parts of his brain had to be held together by first aid medical personnel as the boy was evacuated to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, 2hrs away (including checkpoints), for a craniotomy. Many of the casualties from this, and other raids in Jenin and Qalqilya in the past week, have been evacuated to Rafidia given the specialists for various forms of injury and trauma on hand.
When I first saw Ahmed, he was completely unconscious and in critical condition. Jihad Bani Ouda, the Staff Nurse at the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, explained to us that if Ahmed survived he would be paralyzed on the right side of his body, would have a speech impediment and memory troubles, all probably for the rest of his life. According to Ouda, Ahmed would have to be transferred to Beit Jala for rehabilitation if his condition stabilized - this would mean further separation from his family.
Yet today, Rami, a friend from Tulkarem, who was injured in the hand and was also brought to Rafidia Hospital, is beaming with joy. He takes me to Ahmed's family. His father, whose expression was blank when I first met him, is now smiling warmly. We go together to visit the boy's bedside. Rami tickles his feet and Ahmed moves his left leg. What seemed impossible a few days ago is now a reality. The boy faces a hard road to recovery, but everyone is momentarily relieved that he will live.
As we leave the Intensive Care Unit, we pass by the body of Khaled Kharawish (30), also from Tulkarem, who is still in critical condition. Rami doesn't say anything, not wanting the good mood to dissipate. Khaled was targeted for assassination by the Israeli army; he is now lying in a coma. The words of Khaled Mattour, the director of the Rafidia Hospital echo in my head, "We are under funded, overworked, understaffed. We have skilled personnel but we have so many cases it's often hard to deal. We service the whole northern West Bank for so many things, we have great doctors but it's too much to cope with. The occupation is overburdening our health workers."
Evidence of this was everywhere last night. From the trauma ward for children shot by soldiers, to that for older men lying in hospital beds, bloodied hands, legs, etc. wrapped in bandages. We meet Mohamed (8) from the village of Jamoun in the Jenin Governorate, who was shot in the leg a few days ago. Today the boy is smiling big smiles with his round eyes. He is happy he gets to go home soon. He shakes my hand and we talk, while his mother looks on relieved. In another room, we talk to older men, some from Balata, some from Tulkarem, one from Jenin. They were all brought here by the bullets of the Israeli military. They have all become friends over the last few nights. Intense moments of pain shared collectively between the injured and their worried families. I return to the hall where Jamal's friends are worrying.
The doctors can't save everyone these days, not all families are so 'lucky' as Ahmed's, and the casualty toll mounts as the hospital beds fill out. A few days ago, the Palestinian National Information Center released a report claiming that 3531 Palestinians have been killed by the occupation forces since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and over 40,000 have been injured. The casualties of the last few days of stepped up Israeli military activity in occupied Palestine will add more numbers to the toll.
I think back to the 'shaheed'/martyr pictures from
the exhibition put on by the Women's Union. For some reason
I keep going back to the installation of a red-died
waterfall surrounded by roses and candles, symbolizing the
blood of those killed in Nablus, which struck me as odd and
out of place with the poignancy of the rest of the
photographs and installations at the exhibit. Today, there
is dust kicked up by shuffling feet in the sunlight during
the Jamal's funeral procession. Flags and chanting among
the Old City walls, amidst butcher shops and falafel
stands. The rhythms of the occupation continue unabated as
Jamal's body is silently lowered into the brown earth of
the grassy cemetery. The men are praying, they wipe their
faces with both hands, and disperse quietly.