The MSF medical coordinator, Dra. Natalie Thurtle, tells her experiences about the treatment of wounded Palestinians in Jerusalem.
On May 10, after Israeli police attacked and wounded hundreds of Palestinians, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began offering clinical support to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Jerusalem. My MSF colleagues and I worked alongside the PRCS at the organization’s trauma stabilization point in Wadi al-Joz to assess and stabilize the injured.
One of the first patients I saw that day was 12-year-old Aliya *. She cried as we pulled our jeans aside as gently as possible to examine her. He had a dark bruise as big as an adult man’s fist on the top of his thigh. However, it was not a fist that caused him injuries, but a rubber bullet. Aliya was shot when walking near home with his mother. I asked her for weight in order to calculate the right dose of pain relief I should give her. He told me he weighs only 28 pounds and yet he was shot. He couldn’t walk, so we were worried he might have a fractured femur. We took her to the hospital for an x-ray.
Meanwhile, my partner Andy MSF was suturing a 14-year-old boy named Walid. Walid was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. The wound was less than an inch from his left eye. It was blind luck that allowed him to keep his eyes open. Another boy treated by our PRCS colleagues in the early evening had lost one of his eyes due to a similar injury. As I watched Andy and Rajah, one of our PRCS colleagues, expertly repair Walid’s young face, I couldn’t help but think of that other guy who wasn’t as lucky as he was. I wondered if the people who gave the gun to these kids never thought what impact the loss of eyes would have on a 14-year-old.
When the sun set, it was time for iFtar, the break of the fast of the day. We shared a meal with our classmates and enjoyed a moment of calm.
But the calm did not last long. Soon, there was a large influx of ambulances. Fifteen patients arrived in ten minutes. The team evaluated them quickly, attended to those in need of immediate care, and identified those who needed to be taken to the hospital. We saw someone with a shrapnel wound to the neck and another with a possible collapsed lung from being hit with a rifle. There was also an old man with a head injury, the level of consciousness that was causing him to make us suspect that we have brain hemorrhage.
As he worked, he smelled of skunk water, unmistakable and rancid. “Skunk” is a chemical agent that smells of a mixture of excrement and rotting meat. Israeli police routinely shoot him from water cannons.
Maha, a young woman, was being rushed to a treatment booth. He had been shot in the butt with a rubber bullet. He told us how he fell after being shot, injured his elbow and finally sprayed himself with water while sitting on the ground. The chemical was on his face, on his hijab, on his clothes. The smell was so intense it made her vomit. Not only was he injured, but all his dignity was taken away.
My eyes began to fill with tears, in part from the smell and the feast of witnessing what had been done to him. I wiped my eyes and treated her.
Then there was a calm. We learned that ambulances had access restrictions to parts of the Old City and we wondered if there were patients who needed our help but could not reach us. Fortunately, whatever the problem, it was quickly resolved. Another group of patients soon entered the clinic and we hurried to evaluate and treat them.
We continued our work until another MSF team arrived to do the next shift. Our PRCS colleagues, however, continued. We were told that if necessary, they would stay the night.
I can’t underestimate the incredible work of the paramedics we worked with on Monday. For days they manage the victims of this particular escalation and successfully manage the complex prehospital needs of this vulnerable population for many, many years. There are no words to describe the impact of their work and the endurance and light they bring.
The story that those affected by this violence somehow deserve it is wrong. The people I saw and dealt with on Monday were children, women and men like me and my family. They are humans who are Palestinians.
* All patient names have been changed
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.