Guardian Tuesday May 1, 2001,4273,4178420,00.html

Mutilated children of a crippled Palestine
Suzanne Goldenberg

The Guardian's award-winning Middle East correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg
reports on what
the fragmenting bullet has done to the children of the uprising

The beds of the four teenagers take up an entire wall at Wafa hospital in
Gaza. Tharif Ghora, 16,
was shot in the shoulder when he peeked over a barricade at the Karni border
crossing on
November 19. Hussein Na'ezi, also 16 and with Tharif a regular at the
confrontations with Israeli
soldiers at Karni, took a bullet in the neck the day before.

Ahmed Abu Taha, a stick-thin boy with almond eyes, the baby of the ward at
14, was running
from a tank in Rafah refugee camp on February 18 when a bullet penetrated
his back. Mahmoud
Sarhan, 16, was shot in the neck.

None of them will walk again. Hussein and Mahmoud will not even be able to
lower themselves
into wheelchairs because their injuries are higher up the spinal cord.

They - and 1,000 others - are the maimed of the intifada, with permanent
injuries which range
from a limp or the loss of an eye to paralysis and mental disability: a
harvest of mutilation which
far outstrips the death toll in the Palestinian uprising.

All four of the boys threw stones at Israeli soldiers and tanks - Tharif
used to detour past Karni on
his way home from school - and all four were unarmed.

They, like many of the other injured and dead, are the victims of what the
UN security council
and international and Israeli human rights groups condemn as excessive use
of force by Israel
against the uprising, now in its seventh month.

A great deal of the criticism has focused on Israel's use of high-velocity
bullets fired from M-16
assault rifles. When these penetrate flesh they cartwheel through the body
with explosive force.

None of the four boys is aware that he will spend the rest of his life as
prisoner of his body. In his
hospital bed, a beaming Tharif is being fattened up with shwarma, the meat
sandwiches his
father sells at a roadside stall in Gaza City.

There is an involuntary twitch in his swollen left foot. "You see?" says his
father, Abid Ghora.
"One day, God willing, he will make a full recovery. Maybe if we can send
him to Germany, they
can do something for him."

The number of Palestinians left with some form of permanent disability by
this uprising is not
entirely clear. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the
injured up to two days ago
numbered 13,296, 20% of the hit by bullets.

The Institute of Community and Public Health at Bir Zeit University, the
premier Palestinian
academic establishment, sifted through mounds of hospital records to arrive
at an estimate of at
least 1,000 people who will be permanently afflicted after being hit by
Israeli live fire, shrapnel, or
rubber-tipped steel bullets.

More than 400 of the injured have been treated for lasting disability at
three rehabilitation 12
centres in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - the only places of their kind for
a combined
population of 3m people - and at an eye hospital in occupied Arab East
Jerusalem. Five hundred
of the seriously injured have been treated abroad, including Tharif and
Hussein, who were sent to

In the West Bank town of Beit Jala, Elias Saba, a therapist at the Bethlehem
Arab Society for
Rehabilitation, is trying to coax a response from Amjed Saadi, 18.

"Marhaba," Dr Saba, says to him: hello in Arabic. Sitting in his wheelchair
with his right hand
clenched in a fist, Mr. Saadi grunts twice in reply.

The doctor asks him to put a hand on his nose; Mr. Saadi shades his eyes.

Mr. Saadi was shot in the head with a high velocity bullet fired by an
Israeli soldier on October 2,
in the first few days of the intifada. He woke from his coma five weeks ago
with permanent brain
damage. His eyes are alert but spinal fluid is collecting in a bulge on the
side of his head, and he
will need more surgery.

Human rights groups have condemned Israel for relying heavily on live
ammunition, rather than
non-lethal force, and for shooting when its soldiers' lives are not in

The Nobel prize-winning US group Physicians for Human Rights blames the
widespread use of
the M-16 automatic rifle for the high rate of crippling Palestinian
injuries. The American-designed
weapon is standard issue for Israeli troops.

Daniel Reisner, a colonel in the advocate general's office of the Israeli
army, admits that some
soldiers have broken the undisclosed rules on opening fire.

"Did all cases in which Israeli army soldiers shoot Palestinians involve
live fire incidents? I don't
think so," he said. "Could it be that some soldiers reacted with more fire
than I would have used
in hindsight? Maybe. Some of the reports seem to indicate that."

The chief of staff, General Shauf Mofaz, told commanders last month to
investigate every fatal
shooting of a Palestinian by Israeli soldiers in circumstances where there
was no previous
exchange of fire. The army is making criminal investigations in six such

Col Reisner argues that many of the soldiers - like a third of the 370
Palestinians killed to date -
are practically children themselves. "These are kids out of high school. We
train them, but we
can not make them adults in a day.

"In a lot of the incidents with the Palestinians there has been talk about
children doing the
fighting, and that they were sending 16-year-olds to throw stones or
firebombs. We were sending
18-year-olds, only ours are lawful.

"The general staff can give orders, but at the end of the day the person
that has to carry out
those orders is a 20-year-old kid, and that is in a good situation, with a
22-year-old commanding
office, and a 25-year-old company commander."

The results - particularly when M-16s are used - are devastating. Other
high-speed ammunition
passes cleanly through the body, but a lightweight 5.56mm bullet from an
M-16 tends to tumble
and spin after it penetrates the flesh at a speed of more than 800 metres a
second. Then it
breaks up into tiny metal fragments.

"They move like an insect, buzzing around your body, said Dr Jumaa Saqqa,
spokesman for the
Shifa hospital in Gaza City, where the territory's worst injuries are

"On the outside of the body you just see a small inlet - one centimetre big
- but if there is no exit
we find hundreds of small metallic pieces inside."

Most of the new disabled were hurt during the first three months of the
uprising. Hailed as heroes
in the early days, and handed cheques for up to $1,000 (£700) afterwards,
they are now in danger
of being abandoned on the outer margins of a society on the verge of
economic collapse, and
itself crippled by a corrupt and undemocratic leadership.

"Most of these injured are relatively young," said Mohammed Abu Tair, an
specialist at Mukassad hospital in Jerusalem, "the potential labour force -
the power of society

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