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Gazans suffer life-shattering injuries when border protests turn violent

Gazans suffer life-shattering injuries when border protests turn violent


JOHN YANG: For many months now, Palestinians
in Gaza have regularly protested their conditions along the border fence with Israel. Those protests have often turned violent,
resulting in deaths and permanent injuries. Militant Palestinians have lobbed rockets
and gunfire at Israel, especially targeting the soldiers at the border. But some international observers say the response
of late has taken a disturbing turn. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson was there
last year when the conflict first ratcheted up, and returned recently for another look. JANE FERGUSON: In Gaza, soccer is a crucial
part of life. For many, it’s an escape from the hardships
here. With few prospects for a job, it’s a way for
young men to pass the time, and a way to still feel human even after devastating injuries. Playing with one leg is not easy, but, then,
nothing about life is in Gaza. AHMED ABU NAR, Soccer Player (through translator):
Before the injury, I loved playing soccer. But, after my injury, it became difficult. But, with this team, I can return to it, and
I love the sport. From this sport, we get an outlet for our
feelings, and that’s necessary for everyone. JANE FERGUSON: Seven thousand have been shot
by the Israeli army while taking part in protests along the border of Gaza in the last 15 months. Dozens of those have lost a limb. Ahmed did everything he could to save his
leg, travelling to Turkey and Egypt to try to find a surgeon who could do the job. He says he will never forget the day he was
shot. AHMED ABU NAR (through translator): I was
taken to the hospital, but there was such a large number of injuries, I had to wait
24 hours for my operation. JANE FERGUSON: That was May 14 last year,
when Gazans took part in a march of return protest along Gaza’s border with Israel to
demonstrate for the right to return to their family’s ancestral homes inside Israel, homes
their forbearers fled when Israel was formed in 1948. The Gaza Strip has been under blockade by
Israel since June 2007, when Hamas took control of the territory, violently evicting the Palestinian
Authority. It is one of the most densely populated places
in the world, nearly two million people packed into a sliver of land 25 miles long and five
miles wide. Unemployment is at a staggering 52 percent,
leaving young men like this feeling they have nothing to lose. The day Ahmed was shot, the Trump administration
formally moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinians have long declared that Jerusalem
would one day be the capital of their future state. Until that point, official U.S. policy on
claims to the city had always been neutral and a subject for final negotiations. We were there on that day as tens of thousands
marched towards the border fence; 73 Palestinians were killed and over 2,500 injured. In the makeshift field hospitals, the wounded
arrived at an alarming rate, almost all shot in the leg by snipers. Israeli sharpshooters hit so many, the hospitals
couldn’t cope. DR. ADNAN AL BORSH, Surgeon: I never forget this
day, because it was bloody. JANE FERGUSON: Dr. Adnan Al Borsh was the
lead surgeon on duty that day in Gaza’s main hospital. DR. ADNAN AL BORSH: My department, in that day,
we have done about 85 surgeries in one day. Myself alone, I have done 28 surgeries in
that day. I started surgeries at 9:00 a.m., and the
last surgery was in 1:00 a.m. after midnight. So, really, it was — really, it was tough
fatigue, and it was instruments — lack of instruments and lack of antibiotics and lack
of medication and even anesthesia medication. JANE FERGUSON: At the end of his long, exhausting
day, Dr. Al Borsh fell asleep in a chair and a colleague took this picture. It’s the nature of the wounds that most disturbed
Dr. Al Borsh. Despite fighting for lives through three wars
in Gaza, he had never seen anything like this before. DR. ADNAN AL BORSH: The entry point, or the entry
— entrance from the bullet, it was one centimeter, and the exit more than 15 and 20 centimeters. In that way — in its way, it take bones,
it take arteries, it take vessels, it take nerves. So, its future is for — uncertain, really. I think, because such bullet which was used,
when entered in the body, it explodes inside the body, and it takes everything in its way. JANE FERGUSON: So, even if the limb is saved,
it will never be of use and will need surgery after surgery to avoid amputation. At a nearby clinic run by Doctors Without
Borders, young men with similar wounds fill the waiting room daily. It’s hard enough to find a job in Gaza, where
most work is manual labor. These young men will struggle now more than
ever. The bullet wounds were so large and grievous. Dust and dirt from the protest site means
nearly half of them have serious infection in their bones. Helle Poulsen is the Doctors Without Borders
coordinator in Gaza. HELLE POULSEN, Doctors Without Borders: So,
they are very difficult to treat. Even the best resources in the world would
be overwhelmed, and it would be impossible to manage the complexity and the number of
these injured people. JANE FERGUSON: Waleed Al Ramlawi is waiting
to see a doctor and showed us his injury. The huge square of skin patched up where the
bullet tore out large chunks of his leg. WALEED AL RAMLAWI, Injured (through translator):
Up until now, my wound has not recovered, and it has been 10 months. I have had more than one surgery, and nothing
has been achieved. JANE FERGUSON: Waleed and his friends say
they were unarmed, protesting near the border fence, when he was shot by a sniper. WALEED AL RAMLAWI (through translator): The
Israelis were dealing with us as though we were an army. They were not dealing with us as peaceful
protesters. We had no weapons, just our bodies. JANE FERGUSON: Human rights groups say this
is a war crime. Saleh Hijazi heads Amnesty International in
Israel and the Palestinian territories. SALEH HIJAZI, Amnesty International: The willful
cause of injury and the willful cause of death is a war crime. And so, it is in both instances that we have
found, both in terms of the killings and the injuries, that Israel has violated international
law. Many of these killings appear to be willful
killings and, therefore, a war crime. JANE FERGUSON: The Israeli army denies this. They wouldn’t grant an interview to the “NewsHour,”
but released a statement saying: “For over a year, the Israeli Defense Forces have been
operating against violent riots and terrorist activities under their auspices, which include
shooting at soldiers, attempts to penetrate into Israel, attempts to damage the security
infrastructure, burning tires, throwing stones, throwing Molotov cocktails and grenades in
order to harm IDF soldiers.” But in a damning report released in March,
the United Nations’ independent commission of inquiry disputed that, saying the Israeli
military sniping at protesters was unlawful and unjustified, and should be referred to
the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The U.N. noted that some protesters threw
stones and lit kites on fire to send across the fence, but the majority were peaceful
civilians. Israeli soldiers, the commission said, shot
and killed children, paramedics, journalists and the disabled, fully aware of who they
were. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
rejected the report, saying it was motivated by — quote — “an obsessive hatred of Israel.” Despite the dangers, protesters still show
up here every single Friday. The Israelis have reinforced the borders along
here, and they still shoot at protesters who make it too close to them. On this day, the numbers are down to just
a few hundred people, mainly young men and boys inching towards the fence in a dangerous
game of chicken. Most of these kids have never seen the outside
world, trapped in a tiny strip of land under blockade by the Israeli government and ruled
over by the militant group Hamas. Flaming kites are still sometimes sent across
the fence, causing Israeli farmers’ crops to burn. The most cynical here encourage the smallest
to approach the fence, goading Israeli guards. Israel says the protests are organized by
the militant group Hamas, but the people we met here deny that. AMIN ASLEEM, Protester (through translator):
I come every Friday, and I would come every day if the protest was every day. We in Gaza have nothing to do, no work. All of these people around don’t have a single
shekel, because we are living under the siege. And the siege is constant. JANE FERGUSON: For as long as the protests
continue, so will the bloodshed and also the efforts to save lives. DR. ADNAN AL BORSH: As a doctor, as a surgeon,
I try to save my people. I try to save my homeland, to help my people,
by my experience, by my hands, to live without disability, without pain, without suffering. When I see a patient who was going to amputation,
and I save his limb, I become happy. Really, I become happy, because I saved not
a patient. I save a family, but this patient has wife
and has sons and has relatives. JANE FERGUSON: The lasting legacy of these
demonstrations is a generation left with lifelong challenges, a generation that continues to
suffer inside this cruel conflict. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jane Ferguson
in Gaza.


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