Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Dear Eden: A letter to an Israeli sniper

Hala Shoman | 17-03-2020

Me, at the Great Return March

On the 6th of March, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published the chillingly direct testimony of six snipers out to break the “knee record” as they targeted Palestinian protestors in Gaza’s Great Return March. As both a paramedic and a participant in the protests, I feel obliged to respond to the “star” of the feature, an Israeli soldier named Eden:

"I kept the casing of every round I fired; I have them in my room,” you told the Haaretz reporter. “So, I don’t have to make an estimate – I know: 52 definite hits.” I remember the day you describe. It was May 14, 2018, the day I decided to transition from being a part-time protester and part-time first-aid responder to a dedicated paramedic. The first time I demonstrated, on March 30, the day the protests kicked off, I went because I believed in international law and human rights. I idealistically thought that if we demanded our right to return to our ancestral homelands peacefully, on the basis of U.N. resolutions, we would gain it—or, if not, Israel would be condemned. Instead, I witnessed many blatant human rights violations with my own eyes—including civilians getting sniped and killed, like the young man standing at least half a mile (900 meters) from the border fence, speaking to someone by an ambulance, when he was shot in the head. He died immediately. That was the first time I’d seen someone die in front of me.

And then came May 14, when the snipers all opened fire at once. It was a mass shooting and hundreds around me dropped to the ground, injured. I had been trained as a volunteer first-aid responder and when I received an emergency call from the PRCS (Palestinian Red Crescent Society), I responded immediately. That’s actually when I stopped believing in the ability of the U.N. and the so-called international community to push for our justice. I stopped demonstrating and devoted myself full time to serving as a paramedic for those you injured. Although I had trained as a dentist, not a physician, field training was offered in skills such as staunching the flow of bleeding, 

So, while you were on one side of the border fence, I was on the other with my medical kit. I had the same targets as you, but while you were out to shoot them, MY goal was to rescue. I might have even seen you, in the distance. You counted the knees you shot, and I counted too. You had the casings as mementos of your deeds, and the I dug them out of human flesh. We even have some talented individuals who make art out of them. You did your dirty work, and we tried to re-inject humanity.

Eden, the day you and your partner “proudly” broke the “knee record” was the same day that President Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. On the other side of the border, we were working in pairs too, ready for what we knew would be an outpouring of anger and frustration: The move was an illegal decision with illegal consequences that we felt we could and should not accept. The United States was forcing illegal realities on the ground—stealing our capital, although we had been given rights to it by U.N. resolutions and accords between Palestine and Israel.

I heard sequential shots, followed by bodies falling, hundreds of them. I was shocked, but when an emergency phone call came from the field hospital, saying they needed all paramedics, I ran to volunteer without thinking. My breath was taken away at the sight of hundreds of injuries flooding the field hospital. One of those injured was a well-dressed young man, crying: “It [my leg] will be amputated, right?!” I looked at him and said, “No, I don’t think so. Let’s hope they will be able to save it; stay strong.” But I knew his leg would be amputated, because there was very little left attached between his thigh and his calf. The day went on like that. However, there was no time to cry; I had to stay prepared and strong. Later, I would think about the lives of those young guys without legs. How would they work and support families?


At sunset the same day, Israeli snipers started to shell all areas by the border, and we were forced to evacuate. I rode in an ambulance to Al-Shifa Hospital, which was crazy busy. I put on my surgical gown and started assisting in the operating rooms until very late at night. In the first room was a patient who had been hit with a teargas bomb in his eye. I helped the surgeon separate his eye from its mooring; it was my first time to see a human eye taken apart. I helped silently; my heart cried over this young guy.

In the next operating room was a patient who had suffered a gunshot wound in his groin; the doctors barely saved his reproductive organ. The third surgical operation in which I assisted was the longest and most demanding and complicated. Five doctors exchanged places, trying to save the leg of a young man who had been sniped in his left knee. As a result, all the blood vessels in his left knee were damaged. Two of our most brilliant surgeons worked as partners to restore his knee, borrowing vessels from his right leg. This guy was lucky; his sniper managed to shoot just one leg rather than two.

These nonviolent demonstrators who lost their vision, limbs, lives, etc. were targeted only because they refused to accept an illegal decision by a foreign country, the U.S., one that violated international law.

On that day I could not cry. But I cried my heart out as I read your cavalier comments, confessing how you killed those who I most loved and appreciated—56 on that day alone. More than 2,400 others were injured.

“In the end, you want to leave with the feeling that you did something, that you weren’t a sniper during exercises only. So, after I had a few hits, I suggested to [his partner] that we switch. He got around 28 knees there, I’d say,” you proudly recounted.

To you, we were just targets in a drill. Did you think at all of life on the other side of your sights?


Posted: March 16, 2020

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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