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An EyeWitness Account from Jerusalem on Saturday:
AND THEY CALL THIS PEACE...
Today, I went to Jerusalem. It was devastating.
I was with a group of Palestinians from Haifa and its surrounding
area. We were there for a conference which was canceled because of
the `incidents' as the conference organizers put it with
ironic understatement. So with little else to do given the general strike
that shut Ramallah down completely, and wanting to do something
practical to help, we decided to venture into Jerusalem and do just
about the only thing you can do here without risking your life when
there are demonstrations against the occupation outside every refugee
camp and at every checkpoint. We went to the Makassed hospital in
East Jerusalem to donate blood.
The drive from Ramallah to the Makassed hospital in Jerusalem should
take around half an hour. Just over an hour after leaving Ramallah,
and having driven through settlement after settlement (because the
only roads the Israelis left open were the settlement roads), we
finally got close to the hospital only to be stopped by a row of
Israeli soldiers standing in a line blocking the road and facing off
with a few dozen Palestinian youths who were gathered around 50 years
away. The soldiers were, as usual, heavily armed. They had about a
dozen jeeps and several vans. The Palestinians, again as usual, had
only stones. There were a couple burning tires in the road. Every now
and then a Palestinian threw a stone in the direction of the soldiers
(who were too far away to actually be hit), and then retreated but to
I bumped into L., a German girl I know who lives and works at the
Lutheran hospital down the street from the Makassed. "This has
been going on all night," she told me wearily. "Yesterday it took
me 3 hours to get from over there to here because the whole road was
blocked." She pointed in the direction of the Makassed, about 150
yards away. She continued, "they (the soldiers) came into the
hospital last night and were shooting inside....were had several of
the boys die in here." she added, by way of explanation.
Boys. They're killing boys.
After a few minutes spent gaping in horror, we got back into our bus
and cars and turned around. We drove about 20 minutes through the
side streets until we finally reached the Makassed. As we drove to
the front of the hospital we could hear shooting. The Israeli
occupation forces were apparently getting bored just standing there
and decided to take things up a notch.
More shots, and an ambulance zoomed past sirens wailing. With her
usual impeccable time, my mother called. I though about lying about
where I was, but realized that she would be able to see through my
fib - if not from my voice, then from the gunshots and ambulance
sirens. I said I'd call back later.
We were greeted at the hospital by an official looking man who guided
us led us up the stairs to the rooms where the injured were being
treated. The first man we met had been hit, by a rubber-coated bullet
I think, in the head. He looked drowsy and his head was covered in
bandages. He was about 25 years old. Someone from our group said a
few words of support, and we moved on. In the next room was a man was
lying with a bandage across is face. He was lucky: his eye had been
blown off. If he had been a few inches to the right, the bullet would
probably have entered his brain. In the next room was a young man who
had been shot in the hand. The room after that housed a man who had
been shot in the stomach. "He's in very bad shape,"
whispered a doctor. Stating the obvious slightly he added, "it's not
good to be shot in the stomach."
Downstairs the injuries were worse. A 13 year old girl shot in the
stomach. A man shot in the head. Another had been shot in the heart.
They didn't think he'd last the night. I stopped listening
after that. Another room, another patient in agony, another family
suffering in silence. And then another. And another.
All the while, we could hear the sirens screaming as the ambulances
entered the hospital. And we could still here the shooting.
We went outside to the hospital's Emergency Entrance. There were
probably two dozen people there, some in uniform, some not. One man
had a megaphone which he was using to give orders to everyone in
sight. Everyone seemed to have a cell phone which seemed strange
until I realized that they were using them to communicate with the
ambulances and the various taxis acting as ambulances.
"There's one coming! Clear the way! Clear the Street!" ordered the man
with the megaphone. "Only doctors can approach the car!" An ambulance
roared in. They hospital staffed pulled out a young man with bandages
around his arm. Someone yelled to alert the man with the megaphone to
the arrival of another vehicle. Again Mr. Megaphone repeated his
demand for everyone to clear the way and let the ambulance through.
And again they did.
This time the `ambulance' was a white service taxi van, one
of many being used to ferry the injured to the hospital. Out came a
girl about 14 years old. I guessed she was suffering from tear gas
inhalation: she had no visible wounds, was breathless, and was
clutching her head. Another ambulance arrived with another young man.
Then another. Five ambulances in the 20 minutes we were there. I
couldn't decide whether to be relieved or devastated that
everything was so well organized. On the one hand, everyone had his '
job and knew what to do: it worked like clockwork. On the other, that
practice makes perfect is tragic when the activity in question is the
admission of wounded youths to a hospital...
By this point I was shaking. Adrenaline, stimulated by horror and
rage, was attacking my legs and arms. I felt weak, but strangely
energized. My legs shook slightly as I walked. I was selfishly
relieved when we were told that the outpouring of donations from the
local community meant they had no room for our blood. I figured I
needed every drop if I was going to stay vertical for the rest of
From the Emergency Entrance we headed to the office of Dr. Khalid,
Director of the hospital. Relieved to be able to sit down (I
wasn't sure how much longer my legs would hold me), I gratefully
accepted the Arabic coffee handed around. I just started to relax,
when the shooting started up again, louder this time. So, as sirens
wailed outside, and shots rang out from 100 yards away, Dr. Khalid
smiled warmly and welcomed us. It's so nice to see `48 Palestinians
here in the West Bank, he began, using the term Palestinians use when
talking the part of Palestine lost in 1948. One of the women in our
group interrupted him. "We are not the '48 Palestinians. We have
always been here. They are the Jews of '48". But then she thanked
him and put into words what we were all feeling. "Our hearts", she
said, "are with you."
We asked him about the people we had seen and the procedure for
dealing with crisis such as these. He told us that yesterday 5
martyrs died at the Makassed. 190 people were injured and needed
treatment. 150 were admitted. He told us that all five were killed
by the type of bullets that explode after entering the body, causing
maximum damage. "High velocity bullets" he said in English. I
wondered if there was a way to say "high velocity bullet" in
Arabic or if they always used English to describe them. He told us
that the Israelis have no respect for ambulances, that they shoot
at them and won't let them help or transport people. Later, someone
else told me that yesterday, Palestinians lay injured on the street
50 yards from hospital and the Israelis wouldn't let the ambulances
He then started telling us about the `Disaster Plan' (again named
in English but explained in Arabic). This plan has been in operation
since the first days of the Intifada. Everyone knows his or her role,
where they have to be and what they have to do. In times of crisis,
all hospital staff have to either be present or on stand-by at a
known location so they could be called in if needed. I thought of
the `disaster drills' emergency medical workers simulate in
Washington (where I worked with an ambulance service) so we could
keep up our skills. They don't need drills here, they have plenty
When we finished our coffee we went outside to the bus. While we were
milling around waiting for our bus driver to get the bus, and for
everyone to say their good-byes, we watched the boys throwing stones
and the soldiers lined up staring back at them. There was no
shooting. Suddenly, all the Palestinians in front of us - about
200 in all - turned and started running towards us. Scared, I looked
in the direction of the soldiers. My friend and I grabbed each others
hands as we realized that the Israelis soldiers had formed a line and
were running towards us, their guns raised, and shooting wildly in
our direction. Lots of gunfire. The ambulances and other cars fled
towards us. Terrified youths, apparently scared of arrest and injury
in equal degrees raced past us. Dodging them and the cars we ducked
back into the hospital compound and someone pulled shut the metal
gate. My whole body shook in fury and fear. Half of me wanted to run
for cover. The other half, the part of me that was furious at the
brutality of the soldiers and exploding with rage at the injustice of
the situation, wanted to go out and join the shabab, wanted to pick
up stones and hurl them at the animals shooting at us. Shooting at us
because Palestinian youths have the audacity to demand their freedom,
the gall to remind the world that they are human beings too with
rights and pride, and the desperation to risk everything in the
pursuit of justice.
I didn't join them though. I cowered behind the gate until it
seemed calmer and the youths started to return to the area. We opened
the gate and stepped outside the hospital to see what was going on.
We had just resumed our places when the soldiers starting attacking
again. Again some 200 teenagers turned around towards me and fled.
They looked scared; I was terrified. The sounds of the bullets were
getting louder and louder as the soldiers came closer. Again we fled
into the hospital compound and waited.
A few minutes later it was calm again. One of our groups sprinted to
her car (which was parked right in the line of fire) and I opened the
hospital gate for her. The buaab (part gatekeeper, part security
man), a cheerful looking man in his fifties, smiled at me gratefully
and asked in Arabic if I was from with the group from '48
It was surreal. We stood in the street exchanging greetings. He
offered me a cold drink, I explained what I as doing in Palestine.
The shooting continued and the youths retreated again. And we stood
making small talk.
Finally we moved behind the gate. Our group was, we realize,
stranded: our bus was outside but the gunfire was too heavy to reach
it, and anyway, our driver was smarter than we were - he was
nowhere to be found. So, we did the next best thing to getting the
hell out of there. We had lunch.
My hands shook as I lifted my fork and used my knife. They were still
shaking several hours later when I called my parents to tell them I
By the time we finished eating things had calmed down. The youths
were still there. And the soldiers were still there. But the
shooting had paused long enough for us to get to the bus. We got on
the bus quickly and drove away towards the center of town. In three
minutes we were at the Garden of Gethsemeny. Tourists were giggling
as they chatted to each other and marveled at the buildings and the
trees. I fought the urge to get out of the bus and shake them. I
wanted to shout at them. "Don't you realize that they are KILLING
teenagers less that 1km from here? Do you care about nothing but old
stones and buildings? How can you go sightseeing when quite literally
around the corner, Palestinians are fighting for their lives and for
their freedom? You want sights, I'll show you sights. Go to the
hospitals. See the sight of a mother crying over her injured child.
See a wife praying her husband will survive the night. See the
Doctors fighting to treat patients with no money, no equipment and no
supplies. Watch teenage boys with automatic weapons shoot at teenage
boys with stones. But for God's sake, stop giggling about
Of course I didn't say that at all. I watched silently from the
bus. And listened as the radio announcer read the news: clashes in
Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza, Jenin. Hundreds injured,
over a dozen killed. An ambulance worker shot in the head in Gaza as
he tended to patient who had been shot. A child of 14 shot dead in
front of his father as they tried in vain to shelter themselves from
the soldiers fire. Another child killed in Gaza. Another in Nablus. A
16 year old from Ramallah. They were firing on demonstrators from
helicopters and armored tanks in Gaza. I stopped listening and
remembered the clashes I went to in 1998 in Ramallah. I remembered
how petrified we all were when the helicopters arrived and started
flying low. You can't hide from a helicopter, you see. They can
get you wherever you are cowering. And I started remembering the
sting of the tear gas they used to disperse the crowds, the fact that
it stings your eyes, your throat, your lungs and your skin. And then I
realized that all day I hadn't seen a single Western journalist
all day. I wondered where they were and cursed them for their absence.
And I cursed the soldiers for their brutality. And I cursed the
Israeli government for putting them there and the world for not
Maybe when I have been here longer I will be able to understand the
situation here. Maybe one day I will be able to grasp whatever it is
in Israel's collective consciousness that enables it to act with
such willful disregard for human life. Maybe one day I will decide
whether they are convinced by their own pathetic excuses, whether
they are motivated by anything besides pure, unadulterated evil. Maybe
eventually I will know if Israel honestly thinks that in oppressing
and brutalizing a civilian population, a people whose gravest crime
is to exist at all, they are serving the interests of peace. Maybe,
Right now, as I sit at home writing this down, I'm too tired and
depressed to care. My body aches from emotional and physical
exhaustion, from the dreadful `low' that inevitably follows
an adrenaline `high'. My head is throbbing and my mind is numb.
But I am enjoying the silence.
This weekend is the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Israel brought
in the New Year by killing Palestinians. Start as you mean to
And they call this peace.
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