Two comatose patients: the old man and the little boy

February 16, 2006 4:41 AM IMEMC & Agencies Human Interest, Miscellaneous, Palestine 0

From Gideon Levy’s article "There will be a Vietnam Here" in Ha’aretz 13 Feb 2006
As Israeli President Ariel Sharon lay comatose in a hospital in Israel with little chance of recovery and in a deteriorating condition, another patient in a similar condition joined him in the hospital on Friday and now lies in a nearby room.
But Sharon’s fellow patient is not an elderly man like himself, slowly dying after a long life.  It is an eight-year-old boy, Abdel "Abud" Malek Zalbani, hit in the head this past Friday near his home in Shoafat refugee camp by a concussion grenade shot by Israeli soldiers at a group of children throwing stones.

His head is bandaged, hiding the compressed fractures in his skull. The doctors will be able to assess the amount of brain damage in a few days. Two days after he was wounded, there was a "very slight improvement," according to the cautious doctor. But the child is not waking up.

Abud moves his right leg for a moment. His left side is paralyzed. The respirator tube is stuck in his mouth, his little chest rises and falls at the rate dictated by the machine; his eyes are swollen and closed. A little boy in a coma. Will the border policemen who chased him in the alleys of the refugee camp, tossing stun grenades at little children, see him? Will they think about his fate – to die or to remain a cripple for the rest of his life?

The Border Police come to the camp almost every day. The residents of the camp say that they provoke the children, they honk and they curse. The children throw stones at them. The border policemen throw grenades at the children, stun and smoke grenades. The thunder makes the walls of the houses tremble, the gas penetrates the crowded homes, suffocating their inhabitants, including many old and sick people, and many children. The residents place plastic sheets on their windows, but it doesn’t help.

That has been the situation for several months, since the construction work on the "Jerusalem envelope" wall began, in the valley at the end of this crowded refugee camp, Shoafat. There are 40,000 residents on two square kilometers, refugees from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in 1967, Jerusalemites with Israeli identification cards.

Sometimes it ends with temporary suffocation, sometimes it ends with brain damage, as in the case of the child Abud. It didn’t happen during the evacuation of Amona, nor in the caravillas of Carmia, and therefore hardly anyone writes about it. The Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Unit is investigating: This week, investigator Shai phoned the central eyewitness, and after a few moments he cut off the conversation impatiently, after the witness asked the investigator to come to the scene of the incident. Investigator Shai refused to come, and said that he would call again 10 minutes later. Shai did not call back.

The investigation was apparently finished. The eyewitness says that he saw Abud hurt by a stun grenade that hit his head. The Border Police claim that the child was hit by a stone thrown by one of his friends. Border Police spokeswoman Superintendent Sarit Philipson didn’t even bother to reply to Haaretz. In the Shoafat camp, they are threatening to turn the camp into "Vietnam." At Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, the doctors are fighting for Abud’s life.

The site of the incident: a junction of steep, narrow alleys that descend to the wadi and the wall that is gradually being built in the middle of it. Every house leads straight to the street where piles of garbage are strewn, including the remains of the Border Police grenades. Here is the house into which Abud was brought when he fled from the pursuing border policemen. The owner of the house, Ibrahim Amla, awoke to the smell of gas spreading in his house.

Outside the children were running around, and Amla’s sister rushed to bring Abud into their house. But the child immediately sneaked outside. Amla came out after him, and then he heard a loud noise, and immediately saw Abud fall on his face, his back to the border policemen and a great deal of blood flowing from his nose and his mouth. Amla is convinced that the stun grenade is what hit Abud. "The noise of the grenade came exactly when he fell."

He identified the commander of the force who was standing behind the corner, a man named Yigal Larouche. Amla says that even after the boy fell, the border policemen did not approach him to administer first aid. Amla picked up the boy and brought him to his neighbor Ahmed Jamil, who was less out of breath than he was, and Jamil ran with the boy to the nearby clinic. The boy’s father saw all that in his car mirror, while he was parking, on his way home. The father works as a maintenance man at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

When the border policeman pass through the valley with their jeeps, the children throw stones at them. Afterward the Border Police run after them into the alleys, and throw their stun and gas grenades at them. "Means for dispersing demonstrations" that nobody dreamed of using in Amona, which is now demanding a commission of inquiry.

Last Friday, shortly after 11 A.M., Ibrahim Zalbani, the boy’s father, was returning home from his work at Shaarei Zedek and was about to park his car. He already smelled the gas at the entrance to the alleys. When he parked, he heard a boom, and immediately afterward the screams of a woman. Then he saw his neighbor in his mirror, fearfully carrying a bleeding child in his arms. By the time he had emerged from his car, they had already told him that it was his Abud. "I was in shock. Anyone who saw him was sure he was finished. His head was crushed. I didn?t know what to do."

At the nearby HMO branch, they tried to call an ambulance, but an Israeli ambulance won’t enter the camp without an escort. Ismail and his horrified brothers rushed to take Abud to Hadassah University Hospital at Mt. Scopus, in their car. They were not sure that he would make it to the hospital alive. At Mt. Scopus they called an ambulance to rush Abud to Hadassah Ein Karem, where they quickly brought the child into the operating room. They told the father that Abud’s life was in danger.

The camp residents have been very upset since the construction of the wall began. There isn’t a day without stones, and not a day without gas. Aside from Shabbat. This Sunday, too, the camp was silent, and the border policemen disappeared, apparently because of the incidents on Friday. "They overdo it too much here," says the shutter man, Wahal Mohammed Ali, whose house in the camp was demolished a few years ago, along with another two dozen homes. "Why? Because I approached Pisgat Ze’ev. It wasn’t Pisgat Ze’ev that approached me. I’ve been here since 1967, and they came in 1995."

"You’re a settler," says Amla to him defiantly. "No, I’m a terrorist," replies the shutter man, from his red van. "They don’t want us here. We disturb the view of Pisgat Ze’ev. They look from the balconies and see a refugee camp. That disturbs their view."

Everyone here speaks good Hebrew, and most of them work in Jerusalem. Amla: "I want the world to know that if the situation continues this way, there will be a Vietnam here. If necessary we will open Vietnamese-type traps. We’ll do whatever we have to here, because we have nothing to lose. There is nothing more precious to us than our children and our elderly parents."

Shai of the PID is on the phone. He wants Amla to come to give testimony. Amla: "Send the investigators here, to see the scene of the incident. This incident did not come from nowhere. It came after an accumulation of many incidents. I’m not talking to you about politics. I’m talking to you about the behavior of your soldiers. I’ll give testimony here. Do you want me to tell you what happened, or do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?"

"I’ll call in another 10 minutes, and you decide if you want to come to give testimony," says Shai, hanging up forever, apparently. The PID is investigating.

Amla was married to a Jewish woman, a new immigrant from Argentina, who has been in Eilat since their divorce. Their four children are with him in the camp. They called one of their daughters Millennia, because she was born on the day when the millennium was supposed to begin according to the count of Nostradamus, as Amla explains to us. They called their other daughter Miari, after the hero of the book by Guatemalan author Miguel Angel Asturias, as Amla also explains.

He is an electrician who worked for six years for fat Itzik at Cafe Olga in North Tel Aviv, from where he remembers Judy Nir-Mozes Shalom, and afterward he worked as an installer of satellite dishes and converters for the YES satellite company. When he speaks about the poverty of his camp, he quotes from the film "The Silence of the Lambs," which said that people have a desire, as he puts it, for what they see around them.

"Do you know what it is to come back from an installation at Kibbutz Harel to this camp?" His sister lives in Calabria, Catalonia, north of Barcelona, where she married a local resident who converted to Islam.
"I’m a proud Palestinian, and I know that I’m your enemy. I know that this war will not end, and I know that your attitude toward my existence is like your attitude toward the existence of an insect, even though I have a blue ID card like yours. I heard that during the evacuation of Gaza they taught the soldiers how to show restraint and how to behave nicely. Here they train them in mercenary camps. They don’t care who gets hurt. You’re building a wall. I don’t think that it justifies such a large amount of gas. For every child who throws a stone, you punish 100 families. How far can a child get with a stone? If a child in Pisgat Ze’ev were to throw a stone, would you also use gas against Pisgat Ze’ev?

"I once had an argument with a border policeman. He told me: Keep an eye on the children so they don’t throw stones. I told him: I’m not your bodyguard. I didn’t invite you here, and I’m not responsible for your safety here. You, on the other hand, are my guest, and I’ll kill in order to protect you, but the soldiers are not my guests. We try to prevent the children from throwing stones, but when I saw that even after I disperse the children, sometimes by force, and I ask the Border Police to stop throwing grenades and they continue, I stopped trying to disperse them. The Border Police toss grenades in every situation. They’re suffocating us.

"I’ve been here since I was born. All my life we used to go to the forest opposite. That’s the only place where the children can go. Pisgat Ze’ev is there, and now they’re building the wall, too. Where will we go? Where will the children go? There isn’t a single playground here in the entire camp. Let them take the blue ID cards. We have no problem with that. If a soldier wants to abuse me, he can do so even with a blue ID card."

Amla says that some of the children of the camp walk around with birth certificates in their pockets. There is probably no other place in the universe where children walk around with their birth certificates. The soldiers ask for their ID cards, and if they don’t have them, they sometimes have to show their birth certificates. There is a roadblock at the camp, and going out in the morning to the schools outside the camp, where almost all the residents have Israeli ID cards, is sometimes difficult.

Ibrahim Zalbani sits downcast at the entrance of the children’s Intensive Care unit at Hadassah Ein Karem. Occasionally he goes in to his son, covers his pale body, and leaves looking even sadder. He is 32 years old, with five children, and Abud is the "sandwich," as he puts it. He praises the care given to Abud in Hadassah, and the attitude toward him, and complains about the rudeness of one of the emergency room nurses at Hadassah Mt. Scopus. Abud’s grandparents sit with him, his mother goes back and forth between the children who remain at home in the refugee camp, and the hospital.

The attending doctor, Dr. Jack Brown: "The child arrived with a serious head injury, which we diagnosed according to external signs and a CAT scan. He underwent a head operation, and since then he has been anesthetized and on a respirator. He is still anesthetized and on a respirator, and there are signs of a gradual improvement. We are two days after the injury, and we have to wait a few more days in order to know his condition. He has a brain injury. We can assume that he will be handicapped, but it is still hard to know to what extent. In medical terms, the situation is serious and stable."

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