|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
18 - 24 April 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Hospital ringed by gunsNot even Ramallah's medical compound, which is sheltering journalists and injured Palestinians, could escape Israeli atrocities, writes Michael Jansen from the occupied city
Journalists returning to the Sheikh Zayed Medical Centre, after a fruitless attempt to cover the meeting between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, found a main battle tank standing in front of the entrance. Its gun was pointed towards the building.
In the road at the far end of the compound stood a second tank with its gun trained on the Ramallah Hospital across the street. Television teams, photographers and print journalists from a dozen countries remained trapped in the drive of the centre until the Israeli army decided it had exerted the proper dose of intimidation pressure.
One call to the Brazilian Embassy by a frightened pressman was unlikely to have had any effect on the Israelis' decision to lift the brief siege. As far as they were concerned, we were pests violating the sacred precincts of Ramallah which they had declared a "closed military area."
Sheikh Zayed Regional Emergency and Trauma Centre has become a landmark for journalists attempting to do their job in spite of Israeli obstructionism and threats. The centre and the Ramallah Hospital are bracketed by Israeli snipers. Early in Israel's military campaign, a woman was shot and killed on the road between these two key medical facilities. She was shot in the back of the neck as she was leaving the hospital after having had a cast removed from a broken leg. Her corpse lay on the ground for more than an hour before Italian peace activists managed to recover it.
During the first 10 days of the campaign Italian peaceniks maintained a permanent presence in the hospitals to prevent Israeli troops from invading their premises and snatching away wounded men. The Italians have since departed, so the hospital and centre are open to invasion and abuse by undisciplined Israeli soldiers.
Dr Samir Saliba, director of the Sheikh Zayed Centre, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the idea for an emergency centre took hold during the 1996 clashes between Palestinians and Israelis, which were sparked by the Netanyahu government's decision to open a tunnel below Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the mosque compound in the Old City. At least 75 Palestinians were killed in the resulting conflict, 200 more received gunshot wounds and 100 were injured in other ways.
"There was only one hospital working at the time," Dr Saliba said. "All the doctors came to help treat the patients, generating support for establishing an emergency and trauma centre. We realised there was a serious need for such a centre."
The US-based Ramallah Federation provided the land, a national campaign raised the funds needed for the building and the Emirates Red Crescent Society equipped the centre with state-of-the-art medical equipment and continues to pay the salaries of two-thirds of the staff.
The centre opened its doors on 1 March 2001, five months after the eruption of the present Al-Aqsa Intifada. Since then the facility has received 2,500 people injured by Israeli troops. "All have been treated for free," Dr Saliba asserted. "The families of martyrs are also given free treatment while others who come are charged one-half to one-third of the fees asked for by other hospitals."
This being the case, the hospital is in dire financial straits. It is unable to cover rising costs being caused by the emergency in the occupied West Bank. "The hospital's difficult economic state reflects the Palestinian financial situation. Most of our patients have a minimal income," Dr Sabila said. Nevertheless, the centre will continue to offer the best services possible: "This is our mission. We not only offer medical services but also social workers and rehabilitation."
The centre has 15 beds in the emergency ward, 18 for admission, 16 normal and two in intensive care. It has broad coverage, its own laboratories and radiation facilities. The centre also owns two ambulances but only one is currently operational. At present, the hospital has only seven patients, all but one of whom were wounded during the current conflict. "We have received 75 wounded and operated on most of them," Dr Saliba told the Weekly.
Discharged patients from Jenin, Nablus and Gaza have been put up at hotels in Ramallah because they cannot get home due to the curfew and closure.
Mousa Ayman was waiting in a wheelchair in the spotless reception area to be transferred to a clinic closer to his home. "I only need routine treatment now," said Mousa who has a bleeding ulcer. He was trapped at home for four days by the Israeli reoccupation. "I tried several times to get to a hospital but it was impossible. The first time, the soldiers shot at the ambulance."
"I even showed my passport to Israeli soldiers in tanks near my home. I am a US citizen. But they do not respect a US citizen of Arab descent. The US Embassy does not protect its citizens. But if an Israeli is in trouble, say in a place like Chicago, the Israeli government will step in."
Mousa is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and lived in the US until 1985. "Eventually I got to a clinic near my house. But it did not have a lot of facilities. No X-ray, for instance. I was passing black blood by then. Finally, I was brought here. But I will have a hard time recovering since it took so long to get care," he said.
"The Israelis are treating the West Bankers with such cruelty and harshness because they have in mind the transfer plan," he said. In other words, ethnic cleansing.
Amjed was shot in the back by Israeli special forces some hours before the reoccupation. "I was in the street outside my house with some friends at 3am when I was hit. My friends tried to run away. Two were wounded and one was killed. I was left in the street for two hours," he said.
"I crawled to the nearest houses and threw stones at the front doors to get attention. At the third house the people took me in and helped me. In the first two they were afraid to open. I had two operations and must have one more. My legs are paralysed."
Khaled Jarrar has been a member of President Yasser Arafat's security guard for five years. "On 29 March at six in the evening I was in our offices when tanks began to fire on the building," he said. "Then snipers picked off those left alive in the rooms. I was shot in the thigh. After two or three hours, an ambulance was allowed to enter the place and we were taken in."
"But when it tried to leave the compound, the ambulance was stopped and they tried to take all the men away."
An Irish volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, Caoihme (pronounced Kweeva) Butterly, "fought the soldiers," he said.
"She stood by me and shouted, 'He is wounded, he has been bleeding for a long time, he has to go to hospital, he needs care.' But they put me in a truck with the doctor, medic and driver. Caoimhe called Dr Mustafa Barghouti [head of the Union
of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees] and the Red Cross. They took us to Beitil, the military camp on the edge of Ramallah where prisoners are held and interrogated. They put me on the ground beside the truck. It was raining and cold."
"An officer kept telling me a doctor would come in 15 minutes but it took another two to three hours. Finally an Israeli ambulance took me to the checkpoint at Beitil," Jarrar recounted.
"By then, it was after 2.30am. Six and a half hours after I was shot."
He showed me his healing wounds. "They used exploding bullets," he stated. "Dum-Dum bullets," named after the Calcutta airfield where they were first made during World War II by cutting a cross through the soft nose of an ordinary bullet so that it would shatter on impact and cause maximum damage. In spite of the fact that such munitions have been outlawed, they are now being mass-manufactured.
Khaled can walk now, with a stick. Other members of the president's guard were not so lucky. One was shot six times in the back. After he was struck by two bullets, Khaled watched in horror as four more shots were pumped into him while he was lying on the ground. "Every time he was hit his body jumped," Khaled remembered. Another guard was initially hit in the torso then shot through the face. Part of his jaw was blasted away. He now breathes through a tube in this throat and cannot speak.
Such stories are commonplace here in reoccupied Ramallah, as well as in Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem and in all the other towns and villages of the West Bank. But here at least, the wounded can count on the care of the Sheikh Zayed Centre if and when they can reach its precincts. Those precincts are supposedly protected by international law. But then, Israel has never been a great respecter of the laws of other nations.
Israel is a law unto itself.
Recommend this page© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Letter from the Editor
|WEEKLY ONLINE: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly
Updated every Saturday at 11.00 GMT, 2pm local time