Murder in Zawatta
Today was an even worse day than its predecessors. Everyone asks, “Is ‘worse’ possible?” Mrs Sou’ad Godola, aged 54 and Mr Aiman Hanlawi, aged 22, became two more murder victims of the Israeli terrorist army, in this terrible war of attrition which it is waging against an unarmed civilian population with ever-increasing ferocity. We do not yet have the name of the third seriously injured and unconscious man.
At 10.00 am, in response to an emergency call, our Ambulance left the Center for the village of Zawatta where it was reported that a car had been attacked by a helicopter gunship–two persons had been killed and another seriously injured. On board were Jarere and Ahmed Kanadiloe (Driver and Volunteer Paramedic) and Abed Shahin, a UPMRC Volunteer.
At the very dangerous and difficult Beit Iba ‘Checkpoint’ the Ambulance was held for one and a half hours, during which the crew was continually verbally abused by very aggressive soldiers. Ahmed, a tall, well-built, good-looking 22 year old was singled out for particular hostility. Whilst awaiting ‘permission’ to pass, the crew were witness to three cases of human rights abuse–these happen all the time but are not always documented. In the first, Ahmed was told by a 21-year-old nurse, manacled and sitting on the ground, that she had been on her way to work when her ID was taken away without explanation–she had sat there for four hours. Later, he saw her again–her ID was only returned to her after six hours. They also saw a man who was forced to strip naked and crawl a half-mile through the mud.
The third incident was very violent and was actually witnessed in full by the crew. A man from the village of Beit Imrin was on his way to work at 10.30 am. When he handed them his ID, all four soldiers surrounded him and beat him very severely with their rifle butts, fracturing several ribs which were pushed through the chest wall, when one of the soldiers then squeezed his handiwork together. He had extensive internal and external bleeding and, after first aid to keep him breathing, he was transferred by another ambulance coming into Nablus, to Hospital. Had our Ambulance not been there he would have almost certainly died, as he was unable to breathe by himself and his blood pressure was dangerously low.
At Shaffi Shamran ‘checkpoint’ there was another one-and-a-half hour wait. The crew were interrogated harshly (these ‘soldiers’ do not ask polite questions–everyone barks or screams). They wanted to know why there were three crew in the ambulance. Ahmed explained that the walk to the bombed car was a kilometer down the mountain and they would then have to carry two bodies back a kilometer uphill. The soldier says that he does not see three every time and tries to hold Abed at the checkpoint. Eventually even his demented brain can see that two men cannot carry two dead people up a kilometer of mountainside, and lets him go. Another ambulance comes for the injured person–from The Red Crescent, similarly crewed. Their Paramedic is held hostage at the ‘checkpoint’.
Horrific injuries awaited them at the scene of the murders. Sou’ad Godola’s stomach and lungs were hanging out and she had a huge, large-caliber wound to the thigh. Not content with this, soldiers on the ground had taken some parting shots–one hand-gun shot between the eyes, which had taken off the back of her skull, and two shots in her chest below each collar bone. Aiman Hanlawi’s lower ribs and abdomen had been blasted to smithereens and he had a huge wound to the groin from a large-caliber shot. His guts were hanging out in pieces. He also was given a few parting shots in the head, arms and legs.
Back at Shaffi Shamran with these two murdered corpses–the soldiers laughing and jeering and dancing around with their rifles over their heads–Ahmed asked, ‘why shoot a woman?” The deluded soldier said that she was carrying an M16 machine-gun, a hand-gun, a bomb under her coat and a bomb in a black plastic bag. When Ahmed asked, “WHERE ARE THEY?”, the soldier said that the ambulance crew had hidden them!
There are now seven checkpoints between Zawatta and the Hospital in Nablus–most of them impromptu jeep- or tank-points. Three of these are manned by Druze Police, surely the most evil, murdering group of terrorists to hit the Near East–remember Sabra and Shattila for example. I can personally testify to their brutality (since I was knocked down by a blow to the back delivered by one), and to their eyes which really do have the look of people ‘high’ on something very nasty–their hysterical laughter and crazy screaming rings in my ears like the stereotypical sound of the insane.
At every checkpoint the bodies were examined by many soldiers with the same laughing, singing and dancing. Each time our crew had to look again at the horror beneath as they were instructed time and time again to remove all covering from the dead. At Beit Iba the Ambulance was held again for one-and-a-half hours–the smell of blood, feces, urine, stomach contents and gore was really getting to the crew. Ahmed pointed this out to the soldiers, who thought it hysterically funny and did the same maniacal jig. No 22 year-old should have to spend a day like this–ever. At one of the Druze checkpoints the men poked and made obscene gestures at the bodies. Screaming, shrieking and laughing, they demanded that Ahmed tell them why these people were killed. He said that THEY should know–he did not. More maniacal laughter.
Finally, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the bodies were brought to the Mortuary at the Hospital. The same hospital where we had brought our patient, Targreed Doughlas, heavily in labour last night–her first ambulance had been taken by the Israelis and she was thrown onto the roadside, left to die. She waited there now to go home with her baby girl a few hours old–this next trip for the Ambulance was to be through all these nightmare road-blocks yet again as she lives beyond Shaffi Shamran. But, at Beit Iba, there was a very critically-ill patient in an ambulance coming in to Nablus which was being held the other side of the ‘checkpoint’. Since the UPMRC Ambulance was also prevented from moving through, patients were exchanged and both ambulances drove off in a satisfactory conclusion to a terrible day.
Ahmed poured out the details of all this in a continuous stream of horrific memories–a torrent of shock and grief and anger. Initially in Arabic, but later on to me in such English that I think he did not know he had! And he was very precise on all the details. Now, it is 9.30 pm in Nablus and Abed has just come in very upset; he has written all the events of the day down on a sheet of paper, kept with his ID. He has also written down all the details of the attack on Feras earlier this week (which Feras cannot bring himself to tell me).
At this moment I am awaiting the return of Feras and Jarere from a very dangerous trip through Huwarra ‘checkpoint’–Feras, as always, does not want to put me in any danger, so he took Jarere who has been on duty since 5 o’clock on Thursday afternoon. But he does not know how very much I want to ride with them–to help them to move around and to keep them safe. Isn’t it outrageous that someone my age and of no significance can get an ambulance through when its driver cannot–are there stronger words? I can’t find any. I must go now–I think I hear the Ambulance. What will the rest of the night bring? Maybe it will be quiet–who knows?
ANNE GWYNNE, Independent International, is currently working with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org