Palestinians' tell-tale wounds expose shoot-to-kill tacticsSuzanne Goldenberg in Gaza
Guardian, Thursday October 5, 2000
The nurse holds the x-ray up to the light, and the bullet that lodged in Mohammed Abu Faress's chest comes into focus, along with bright shards of shattered bone. "A few inches either way and he would have been dead," says Ahmed al-Jabali. Amid the chaos of battle, doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital detected a disturbing pattern in the injuries inflicted by Israeli soldiers. They are targetting the head and upper body.
Shifa has received 11 dead and treated 284 wounded since the fighting erupted on Saturday. The majority had been shot in the upper body, with rubber bullets as well as live rounds, and 20% of patients had been hit in the head.
"Yesterday, a case came in without a brain," said a plastic surgeon at Shifa, who has trained and worked abroad. "Even in London, in Romania, and in Yugoslavia, I never saw anything like it."
The charge on every Palestinian doctor's lips is that Israeli soldiers are firing to exact maximum damage, leaving injuries far deadlier than those inflicted in previous conflicts.
"In this time, there is a change of method, and I would like to say that the Israelis are trying very much to kill very many people," said Dr Mohawia Hassanen, head of emergency services. Doctors at the Mukassad hospital in east Jerusalem noted a similar pattern.
A survey of Palestinian hospitals conducted by the local chapter of Physicians for Human Rights found 30% of injuries were from the stomach up, and that there was a disproportionate number of eye injuries. Doctors at St John's hospital in Jerusalem have treated 18 Palestinians shot in the eye.
DevastatingThe use of rockets and helicopter gunships has had a devastating effect. On Sunday, Mohammed Abu Faress went down to Netzarim junction with four of his friends to throw stones at the Israeli post there. All four were injured by live rounds. "I was lying on the ground, and the helicopter was flying and shooting," he said. He received two bullet wounds.
Down the hall, the aged parents of Zaher Ismail, 17, are exhausted after sitting by his bed all night. He took two bullets below his heart on Tuesday, fired, he believes, by Israeli soldier from the concrete and steel bunker at Netzarim junction. "It hurts so much," he mumbles. To distract him, an orderly shows him a single red rose, and a pamphlet left by a Palestinian party praising his courage. Zaher's enraged father snatches up the flower and crushes it in his hand.
"Many people were shot with M-16, high velocity bullets that shatter on impact," Wahib Dajani, a doctor at Mukassad hospital in east Jerusalem told reporters. "This is a weapon you use armed soldier to armed soldier, world war three, but not against civilians."
The Israeli army insists it is behaving "according to our rules and our morals". It is to meet fire with fire. "We want to be very clear: we react when they open fire on one of our people and on our position, but we are not firing on specific parts of the body. We return fire to the source of the fire," said Major Olivier Rafowicz.
The Israeli rules of engagement for low-intensity conflict - more than for a riot, but less than all-out war - license soldiers to fight rocks and petrol bombs with tear gas and rubber bullets. But when troops come under fire from Kalashnikovs, as they have from Palestinian police at Netzarim, then they are authorised to return fire with live ammunition.
"We are aware of propaganda from the Palestinian side to demonise us, but we are behaving according to our rules and our morals," Major Rafowicz said.
But international outrage at Israel's tactics is growing. Stunned by the image of a cowering 12-year-old boy, Mohammed al-Direh, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza at the weekend, international human rights organisations are demanding investigations into Israel's methods of containing civil unrest.
At least 49 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,800 injured during the last week, the Palestinian health ministry said yesterday. Thirteen were children; the youngest, a girl, was less than two years old. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch joined Amnesty International in expressing grave concern at the high casualty toll and the killing of children and medics. The International Committee of the Red Cross has made a rare written protest against the death of an ambulance driver in Gaza at the weekend, who was shot dead when he was coming to the al-Direhs' aid. Israeli human rights groups are conducting their own investigations.
Improper useThe Israeli government was again criticised at the United Nations on Tuesday, and during yesterday's meeting in Paris, where the prime minister, Ehud Barak, is fighting off French and Palestinian calls for an international inquiry.
Even local human rights groups are accusing Israel of improper use of rubber-jacketed bullets, which are designed to be shot at the legs and lower body from distances of more than 20 yards.
There have been many documented instances of close-range shootings at
eye level. "What is happening in these few days is that the Israelis
are shooting at our people and our children, not with the aim of
injuring, but for killing," said Dr Hassanen.