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A Hero in the Midst of Horror

by ANNE GWYNNE

“3 Palestinians killed and 25 injured in Nablus,” say the headlines. It tells you nothing at all…

I have just come from Raffidia Hospital on the North Mountain in Nablus, formerly the most beautiful and prosperous city in the ancient, cultured and peaceful land of Palestine, where most of those 25 people were taken and where one of the injured, FERAS MABROUKI aged 21, has just died of the wounds he sustained a few hours earlier. Also under the sanitized ‘3 dead’ heading come AYMAN KAMAL abu ZANT aged 20, and MOHAMED-SAMIR TAKRURI, aged 35. All, I am told, murdered by shots to the head–all human beings with families suddenly and grievously bereaved tonight. Three more innocents murdered–three more Martyrs in Nablus.

Under a continuous, year-long, brutal, illegal military occupation, the suffering of the people of Nablus goes on day after day in ever-escalating terror inflicted upon them by what the people here can now only describe as the crazy and totally evil Jewish-Israeli soldiers. Today demonstrated that, in the most terrible fashion. The desperately injured and the dead in the Hospitals of Nablus are witnesses-without-a-voice to the murderous assault upon an innocent civilian population on a sunny, shopping-eating-laughing Sunday afternoon.

At 1.30 pm, a massive force of occupying soldiers swept into the City Centre, in huge tanks and armoured personnel carriers bristling with weapons of very large calibre. I wonder how readers out there visualize these friendly-sounding vehicles, the APC’s, which are actually like a smaller version of the tanks, lacking only the 800 mm cannon. They are bringers of death just like the tanks, but can move faster and go down narrower streets. There were many Hummer “Officer Class” jeeps, many jeeps laden with soldiers, and still more navy-blue jeeps with the psychotic Druze police in them. Just like a Western film, they came in firing from the hip, completely indiscriminately. All this armoury was to arrest one man–Mr. Tayseer Khaled, a prominent public figure and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. He was arrested with 3 members of his staff.

The situation then turned ugly when the soldiers started to fire on youngsters jeering and throwing stones. In answer to a call for help I rushed to the Midan al Hussein, the formerly beautiful gardens of the City Centre (destroyed by tanks which rolled over them for no reason). Skirting the Midan, I saw an armoured vehicle fire at a car coming towards me. It sprayed the brain of the driver over the front of a parked car and onto the wall across the street. On the other side sprawled the remains of a car, from which the driver had narrowly escaped before a passing tank rolled over it. And a third car, over whose offside rear a tank had careered. It’s a helluva use for US tax dollars.

As I turned into Sharra Sofian my heart turned to stone at the sight of a homicidal soldier discharging his gun into the side of our UPMRC Ambulance at close range, and then shooting in through the open near-side window at the driver, Feras al Bakri–almost universally acknowledged here as the best and the bravest. Caring and always courteous, even at the most dreaded checkpoints, competent in all situations, cool and calm under fire, courageous and conscientious beyond the call of duty, Feras’ total integrity has earned a respect I have seldom felt for anyone.

Feras’ head, heart and hand were within some 30cm of each other as he drove the Ambulance but, thanks be to God, this time it was his left hand which was hit, the bullet exiting through the offside window. I had to thank Allah, even though I do not believe in any God. The first bullet, through the side of the Ambulance, had seriously injured an unusually beautiful young Volunteer, Mohamed Ka’abi, aged 21, from Balata Refugee Camp. 21 years old and he has been shot through the testicles–imagine the pain and the consequences for his life.

Feras rushed him to the Hospital, and then received limited first-aid for his own shot hand. He did not go back for proper treatment, but continued to work all afternoon, taking the dead and injured to Hospital without thought for himself. Of the 24-25 patients, Feras carried 12 or 13 in our damaged Ambulance. There were many other ambulances around, but the carnage was inside the ring of firing–only he was courageous enough to come through every time to the very centre, where the street was covered with blood that ran in rivulets into the gutter. It was always only the UPMRC Ambulance which entered the dangerous area, driving right up to the tanks to pick up the youngsters where they lay amid the spreading blood–bullets coming from every side and ricocheting off the walls all around.

One particular instance stands out. A boy was hit by a tank advancing from the Sharra Feisal. As he lay there, the tank kept on coming–huge in the city street. From the other direction came Feras in the much-loved Savannah with its UPMRC markings–suddenly looking quite small, faced with the cannon and guns of the tank. Ambulance and tank stopped side by side with only centimetres between them; Feras, one-handed, leapt out to help get the boy inside. Shooting was coming from every side, including the continuous fire of machine-guns. This is not hearsay–I was actually in the middle of it for the whole time, and I could not hear for several hours afterwards, deafened by the proximity of the firing. Each time Feras came back to rescue another wounded soul, I stood by his door in the hope that the presence of an international might stop a gunman firing at him. Afterwards, Feras said he had been working so much on autopilot that he had not seen nor felt my hand on his arm.

So many persons involved in the events of the afternoon expressed the same words, with a few minor variations, that they should be recorded–“Look, where are the other ambulances? Who is here–Feras, always Feras, in April the same. He is a hero.”

The centre of the attack was the 9-storey building where the PLO have their office. I would remind you here that this is a perfectly legitimate office and that, under International Law and Convention all occupied/oppressed peoples have the right to struggle for their rightful freedom. Many people had been trapped in there, and we were able to get them out. As we did so, two IOF ambulances arrived–we wondered if some of their gunmen had been injured in a separate attack upon Palestinian freedom fighters.

At every junction there were tanks, APC’s, jeeps (singly or in combination) forming a ‘ring of fire’ around the city centre. In the streets of a large city on a sunny Sunday afternoon they look like the scenario for a science fiction movie. With two other Internationals I was able to help evacuate a large building in which there was much firing, and to escort a few people to safety on the street; we were also able to help some shopkeepers close-up to save their stock.

Quite suddenly after about two and a half hours, at 4.00 pm the attacking gunmen, tanks and APC’s left and, within five minutes the city resumed its normal life–until, of course, the illegal lock-down curfew at 6.00 again cleared the streets.

As I write this in the late afternoon sun of a beautiful day in Nablus, I stand in pools of blood being hosed from the Ambulance floor, its stretchers, lockers and footwells surrounded by young Volunteers in blood soaked clothing–the road strewn with discarded surgical gloves dyed red by the endless blood they have handled. I notice that someone has drawn a circle in blood around the new bullet-hole in the near-side of the Savannah. However much water is hosed over the interior, the next time I look blood has seeped from everywhere again. Later, when we take some of the Volunteers home the floor is still stained. So much blood.

THE INJURED I SAW THIS EVENING IN RAFFIDIA HOSPITAL

12 -year-old Magdi F’tijan is under intensive care, lying on his blood-soaked bed with blood still pouring from his nose, watched over by his silently-weeping mother. We hugged each other wordlessly for a long time. Magdi has extensive injuries to his face from a large-calibre bullet which has blown away part of his nose and maxillary bone, torn out the base of his tongue, cut a hole in his neck. In addition, there is extensive loss of soft tissue and part of the hard and the soft palate. With massive oedema, he is on a respirator, and Insha’Allah, he may live. If he does, he faces years of pain and suffering in reconstructive surgery. He threw a stone. AT A TANK.

Moussa abdul Rahman, 25, from Qalqilya has a serious injury to his jaw. All of his tongue is seriously damaged with facial palsy, the result of an explosive bullet inside his mouth. His face is appallingly oedemic. An exploding bullet against a man in the street. Sheher abu Eishe (a proud name in Nablus) was hit by an M16 bullet, still in his upper left arm because the hospital was too busy to operate tonight. He is from Beit Wasser village and was just going out for tea. Mohamed B’Sharra, 19, was shot by Druze police in his left arm–he was just standing on the street. Abdul Abbas, 20, from Askar Refugee Camp–his leg was broken when it caught a casual bullet as jeeps just shot everywhere. Ahmed Mohamed, 27, has two injuries–an extensive wound in his leg, and serious injury to the scrotum. Saleh Aslee, 21–In a hail of machine-gun fire he took four bullets to the left leg which is smashed, swollen and suppurating; one bullet to the right leg, one to the right hand, and one to the left. Six months ago he was also extensively injured, leaving him with a series of livid scars.

Dear heaven, what a use for tax-dollars.

Later, I again was privileged to be allowed to sit at the bedside of some severely injured young men at the Nablus Special Hospital–to hear the extent of their pain and to ask what they were doing when they were so illegally shot. Without exception, they were doing nothing except going home, going to meet a friend or standing in the street looking at the tanks.

Alaa Joudat Mohamed abu Sharkh, aged 21, lies very critically ill in a deep coma from which he is not expected to recover because his brain has been terribly injured by a 25mm bullet. He was operated on, but later developed a massive haematoma in the brain and underwent a further operation. He had simply been walking in the street.

In the Intensive Care Unit of the same Hospital I was permitted to peep quietly at 20 year old Bashar Iya’esh–a horrific 25 mm bullet injury to the chest. As I stood with his brother, he opened his eyes and whispered ‘Anna’. He reminded me that I had saved him from an Israeli gunman during another attack on civilians at the Sharra Amman–was it three weeks ago, I don’t remember–I felt very humble that he should remember me in these terrible circumstances. I spoke with Dr Ray’yan about him, and he told me that the bullet tore through Bashar’s liver and right lung. He suffered very severe bleeding, losing 3 litres of blood–5 pints.

These young men were shot as they went about their lawful, peaceful business because, presumably, the Israeli gunmen become quite frenzied when they see a Palestinian anywhere in the vicinity of their designer American weaponry.

After the horrific day, Feras could take no more of this and so we left. I watched as he stood beside the Ambulance, very quiet and traumatised, holding his heavily-bandaged left-hand. This has been a day in which the murdering Israelis plumbed the depths of terror, and Feras al Bakri reached the heights of heroism.

ANNE GWYNNE is working with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus. She can be reached at: gwynne_anne@hotmail.com

 

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