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How Israel is disabling Palestinian teenagers

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Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – In the Dheisheh refugee camp, it is common to see Palestinian teenagers with deep scars dotting the length of their legs, while posters and murals of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces adorn the concrete walls – testaments to a disturbing reality of routine Israeli violence in the camp.

International law prohibits the use of live ammunition on civilians, except as a last resort during an imminent threat of life. However, Israeli soldiers freely fire live bullets at Palestinians during confrontations or military raids.

Both Palestinian and Israeli rights groups have noted that Israel’s excessive use of force on Palestinians has caused scores of permanent and temporary disabilities in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Several residents in the Dheisheh camp have also recently been killed, the latest of whom was 21-year-old Raed al-Salhi, who was shot multiple times during an Israeli army raid last month. He succumbed to his wounds on September 3 at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem almost a month later.

The Bethlehem-based Palestinian NGO Badil reported a significant increase in Palestinian injuries in the refugee camps last year, the majority of which were caused by live ammunition. Most of the gunshot wounds were directed at the lower limbs of the youth in the camps, now commonly referred to as “kneecapping”.

Residents of the Dheisheh camp say that an Israeli army commander, who the youth in Dheisheh refer to as “Captain Nidal”, has been threatening to intentionally disable Palestinians in the camp. “I will make half of you disabled and let the other half push the wheelchairs,” he has been reported as saying.

Badil underscored that the threats indicate that incidents of “kneecapping” are “not accidental or isolated”. But instead “result from a systematic Israeli military policy aimed at suppressing resistance, terrorising Palestinian youth, and permanently injuring them and/or causing significant damage to their physical and mental well-being”.

Issa al-Mu’ti, 15: “I could not feel my legs – all I saw was blood”

I was 12. It was 2015. Clashes erupted with Israeli soldiers at the northern entrance of Bethlehem. I was at home with my family when I was notified that my younger brother had gone to participate in the clashes.

I was scared for him. He shouldn’t have gone. I decided to go and find him and drag him back to the camp.

When I arrived, the clashes were ongoing. The Israelis were shooting tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. But still, I continued searching for my brother. Suddenly, the soldiers opened up with live ammunition. I fell to the ground. I couldn’t get up or move my legs. I looked around for help and saw the soldiers shooting at Palestinians who were running away.

An Israeli police dog began to attack me, biting my leg. I tried to fight it off, but then the soldiers came. They dragged me across the pavement and beat me, even kicked my legs. They didn’t realise I was injured. When they saw my wounds, their faces twisted into shock, and they ran away from me.

I immediately looked down. My legs looked so scary. I couldn’t feel anything – all I saw was blood. I found out later that I had been hit with two expanding bullets in each leg. The use of these bullets is illegal under international law.

The soldiers spent some time staring at me from afar. I could tell they were stunned and didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I was brought to the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. I spent three months there, almost a month of which I was handcuffed to the hospital bed.

Armed Israeli soldiers were stationed in my room the whole time and sometimes Israeli intelligence would come to the hospital and interrogate me about throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers.

The pain was excruciating. I had one surgery on my left leg and 20 surgeries on my right leg. My right leg had the worst injuries. The doctors told me that my veins had been destroyed by the bullets, so blood was not able to reach my leg.

I developed gangrene in the hospital and the doctors said they would need to amputate my leg.

At first, I refused. What could I do in my life with only one leg? I felt like my life would be ruined. But the pain from the gangrene worsened. My leg turned black and dried out. It got to the point that cutting it off felt like a relief.

The injuries changed everything in my life. I can’t walk long distances. Before my injuries, I was working to help my family. We aren’t a rich family, so it was important for me to contribute to the household. But now I can’t do anything.

My family raised a criminal case against the soldiers in Israeli court.

Soon after, Israeli soldiers would come to our home and harass my father. He works at a bakery in Gush Etzion [one of Israel’s illegal settlement blocs]. The soldiers are always threatening him, telling him that they will revoke his Israeli permit so he can’t work any more – which would destroy our family – or that they will detain me if my family doesn’t drop the case.

I know that the soldiers will probably not be punished. They’re Israelis who will face an Israeli court. But they permanently disabled me and shot me with internationally banned bullets. How could they not be held accountable?

Ramzi Ajamiah, 15: “We are affected psychologically”

Israeli soldiers shot me in both legs. The bullet that went through my left leg struck my kneecap. It also hit a nerve, so the doctors were not able to take the bullet out. The bullet fragments remain in my left leg.

I’m not able to walk for long periods of time. Sometimes my legs will just give out. Especially during the winter months, the cold makes the pain worse. At times, the pain becomes so severe that I’m not able to go to school. I’ve missed more than a year of school because of my injuries.

The incident happened at 6am in 2016 when Israeli soldiers raided the camp. I was on my way to school. The soldiers routinely enter the camp in civilian buses, not military vehicles, so they aren’t noticed as easily.

One of these buses was parked outside the school. When the soldiers exited the bus, clashes immediately erupted.

The soldiers shot me with a live bullet in my left leg. I was in shock and my body collapsed to the ground. My friend saw it happen, ran over to me and attempted to carry me away from the clashes. At this time, one of the soldiers shot my friend in his leg. But he kept going. Then they shot him again in the other leg and we both fell.

That’s when the soldiers shot me again in my right leg.

I spent almost a month in the hospital. The doctors had to remove flesh from other parts of my body and implant it into my leg, because the bullet had blown away huge chunks of flesh from my leg. They inserted nails that held the flesh together as it was healing, and they wrapped my legs in casts.

About two weeks after I was released from the hospital, Israeli soldiers came to my house in the middle of the night to arrest me. I thought the soldiers would leave me alone after shooting me. But they dragged me out of my bed, handcuffed and blindfolded me, and threw me into an Israeli army jeep. They said I had thrown stones at the soldiers in the camp.(Al Jazeera)

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