On Friday a year ago (29 September 2000), Palestinians leaving the Friday noon Prayers in occupied old city of Jerusalem started a protest following the provocative visit to the Haram al Sharif by the war criminal Ariel Sharon (responsible for numerous massacres of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians). The Israeli occupation forces had apparently been well prepared to counter these unarmed demonstrations with snipers stationed strategically around the holy site and a massive show of force. The 2000 security forces at the site made no attempt to disperse the unarmed demonstrators by non-lethal means. Five worshippers were killed and over 160 injured (32 of whom sustained critical injuries) in what was later labeled by human rights organizations (Amnesty, Human Rights Watch etc) as “excesive use of force.” That marked the beginning of an uprising (Intifada) which now marks its one-year anniversary.
Since then, Israeli forces and settlers killed over 650 Palestinians and wounded 17,000 others. In the western media, the impact of the siege and warfare is reduced to mere ciphers (2 killed here, 5 there, 8 elsewhere). Americans consequently have no idea of the true magnitude of war-inflicted suffering that would constitute an unprecedented national emergency where it to take place on a similar scale in our country.
Occasional glimpses of the tragedy may come to light. Two injured Palestinian girls were treated in Connecticut thanks to generosity of medical professionals and host families. Hiam was 7.5 years old walking with her mother to visit a friend in Gaza when an Israeli sniper took out her left eye.Marwa celebrated her 10th birthday in Hartford last week with a two-inch bullet still lodged in her head. Four weeks earlier she was hit in her home while sleeping by Israeli soldiers firing a hale of bullets at her home and neighborhood.Her brother who was sleeping next to her ran out of eth house splattered with blood and still refuses to sleep in his own home. Both families (12 and four children) had no income as Israel stopped all Palestinians from reaching their jobs since the start of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation. The plight of these two families illustrates the hidden catastrophe in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The following observations are based on information from the Union of Palestine Medical Relief Association, Palestine Red Crescent, and the Health Development Information and Policy Institute. The data cover the period of 11 months from the start of the Palestinian uprising.
The realities behind the figures are shocking. If we consider that 3.2 million people live in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, a total of 17,000 injured Palestinians is the equivalent of having over 1.5 million Americans. 10,500 Palestinians injured were treated in hospitals or officially in clinics and thus detailed statistical data are available for these victims. Of those injured, 37% (West Bank) to 52% (Gaza strip) were children under age 18 years old. 36% of injuries were by live ammunition, the remainder by rubber-coated steel bullets, and other so-called “non-lethal” means.64.7% of the injuries were to head (like Marwa’s case) and upper part of the body. One third (West Bank) to one half (Gaza) of those injured were hit in the back.
An astonishing 58% were not involved in demonstrations or clashes (Hiam and Marwa are typical stories). 112 Emergency Medical Technicians were injured while trying to evacuate other injured individuals. 72 journalists were shot or beaten by Israeli soldiers/settlers and six press centers were shelled. Shelling of civilian areas has accelerated and over 4000 buildings were damaged (including 800 homes, 30 mosques, 12 churches).An internal and external siege and closure of Palestinian towns and villages prevented many from reaching urgently needed medical care.At least 16 deaths are directly attributed to this closure.The closure also prevents medical personnel from getting to the scenes of injury and many more of those who died bled to death while waiting for evacuation.
18-25% of those injured suffered permanent disabilities impacting their function for the rest of their lives. Over 350 cases involved loss of an eye (as in the case of Hiam). Over 800 cases involved loss of use of an extremity (hand, foot). Over 52 Palestinians were assassinated (extrajudicial killings are considered a war crime by International law).
Such injuries are wreaked in a context of economic devastation inflicted. Israeli occupation forces have diverted natural resources from use by the indigenous Palestinian population to use by settlers/colonists. The Israeli army even attacked sewage treatment facilities, 108 water wells, 40 schools, and several hospitals. Tens of thousands of trees were uprooted and over 32,000 dunums of agricultural land bulldozed or otherwise rendered unusable.According to the World Bank and International agencies, the siege and relentless attack on Palestinians under occupation resulted in massive poverty and economic hardships.
Physical injuries and economic deprivation are only part of the story. The Gaza Community Mental Health Program counsels increasing numbers of children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.Symptoms include thumb-sucking, crying, clinging to parents, nightmares, bed-wetting, poor appetite, poor sleeping patterns, short attention spans, aggression towards siblings or parents, and fear of dying.
It should be added that a battery of international laws outlaw Israeli violations: The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, UN resolutions 194, 242, 338, the Hague Regulations, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights/Convention on Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on Rights of the Child. Israel’s human-rights violations have been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israel’s human rights organization B’tselem, and many other organizations.
The weapons that inflicted the massive toll described above are made in the United States (M16 rifles, ammunition, Apache Helicopters, F-16 fighter jets), and paid for by our taxes. Over the past four decades, the US has funneled almost 100 billion dollars to Israel; that is more money than we gave to the whole continent of Africa. Our government has also used its veto power in the UN and its superpower status toi shield Israel from an overwhelming International condemnation of its atrocities. It is time to start asking questions about our complicity in creating and sustaining this tragedy and follow the lead of the activists who spend the last year working diligently for truth, justice, and reconciliation. Upon hearing the news of the terror attack Sept. 11, Palestinians gathered spontaneously in front of the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, lighting candles and placing flowers along its walls. Some of the placards they carried read: “Terror is our common enemy” and “We are victims too.” Indeed we are all victims of violence and it is time for humanity to put an end to the insanity of violence and oppression.
(Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is Chair of the Media Committee, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition)