Medical Co-ordinator of MSF Dr. Natalie Thirt shares her experience of treating injured Palestinians in Jerusalem.
On May 10, after Israeli police attacked and wounded hundreds of Palestinians, the Massachusetts Sans Frontieres (MSF) began providing clinical assistance to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Jerusalem. My MSF colleague and I have worked alongside the PRCS on the Wadi Al-Joze organization’s trauma stabilization point to assess and stabilize the injured.
One of the first patients I saw that day was 12-year-old Alia *. We cried as tightly as possible to test her jeans. His upper thighs were as dark as a fist of an old man. However, it was not a fist that caused his injury – it was a rubber bullet. Alia was shot while walking home with her mother. I asked her weight to calculate the correct dose of pain relief to give her. He told me he weighed only 28kg – and even then he was shot. He could not walk, so we were worried he might have a fracture in his femur. We took him to the hospital by X-ray.
Meanwhile, my MSF colleague Andy Walid was suing a 14-year-old boy. Walid was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. The wound was less than a centimeter from his left eye. It was blind luck that made him keep his eyes peeled. Earlier in the evening another boy treated by our PRCS colleagues lost one of his eyes due to a similar injury. When we saw Andy and Raja, one of our PRCS colleagues, skillfully repairing Walid’s young face, I couldn’t think of any other boy as lucky as him, but I couldn’t think of him. I was amazed at what those who turned the gun on these children had in mind considering the impact that a 14-year-old child would have on a teenager’s eye damage.
As soon as the sun went down, it was time for Iftar, breaking the fast of the day. We shared a meal with our colleagues and enjoyed a moment of calm.
But the calm did not last long. Soon, the ambulance had a huge coral. Fifteen patients arrived in 10 minutes. The team quickly assessed them, treated those in need of immediate assistance and identified those who needed to be transferred to the hospital. One of us was hit in the neck with a whip and the other was probably hit in the lungs with a rifle. There was also an elderly man with a head injury whose level of loss of consciousness led us to suspect bleeding in the brain.
As I worked, I smelled “shaking water” – indescribable, catastrophic. “Skunk” is a chemical agent that smells like a mixture of excrement and perishable meat. Israeli police regularly fire from water cannons.
A young woman named Maha is taking him to the Cubicle for quick treatment. He was shot in the buttocks with a rubber bullet. He told us how he fell after being shot, injured in his elbow and finally sprayed with crushed water after lying on the ground. The chemical was on her face, on her hijab, on her clothes. The smell was so intense that it made her feel nauseous. Not only was he injured, but all his dignity was taken away from him.
My tears began to fill with tears, partly because of the smell and part of the testimony of what had been done with it. I wiped my eyes and treated him.
Then there was the one low. We heard that ambulances were forbidden to enter parts of the Old City and thought there were patients who needed our help but could not reach us. Thanks, whatever the problem, it was fixed quickly. Another patient soon entered the clinic and we rushed to evaluate and treat them.
We continued our work until another MSF team came to take the next shift. Our colleagues at PRCS, however, have just continued. They told us they would stay there if they stayed the night.
I can’t underestimate the incredible work of the paramedics we worked with on Monday. For several days they have been managing casualties as a result of this particular expansion, and they have been successfully managing the complex pre-hospital needs of this vulnerable population for many, many years. There are no words to understand the impact of their work and the resilience and light they bring.
The story of those who were affected by this violence deserves it anyway. The people I saw and treated on Monday were children and women and men like me and my family. These are people who have just become Palestinians.
* All names of patients have been changed
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the author and his editorial position on Al Jazeera.