Mohammad Abu Habsah, 18 years old, spent nearly two weeks at a hospital in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank after Israeli forces shot him with live ammunition during protests three years ago. Bullets fired by an Israeli sniper struck him in both legs as he attempted to run away after clashes broke out between Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli army.
Other protesters carried Abu Habsah, then 15, away, bringing him to the Arab Rehabilitation Hospital in northern Bethlehem, where he received treatment for 12 days. The day he was released from the hospital after undergoing surgery, Israeli forces raided his home in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp.
It was 3 a.m.
Abu Habsah recalls being awoken by an Israeli army commander, who squeezed his leg directly in the location of one of his bullet wounds while he was sleeping in his bed. The soldiers refused to allow Abu Habsah to take his crutches or his medicine with him, the teen said. “One of the soldiers carried me over his shoulder for a few minutes. Then he just dropped me and I fell to the ground. I kept telling them to help me, but the soldiers ignored me. I was forced to limp by myself.”
Palestinian injuries are taken by the Israeli Army as a de facto admission of guilt.
The Palestinian youth was handcuffed, blindfolded and driven away in a jeep. Owing to his injuries, the soldiers brought him to an Israeli military hospital where staff gave the injured teen aspirin and wrapped a bandage around one his wounds before transferring him to an interrogation center in Gush Etzion — an Israeli settlement bloc in the occupied West Bank built in violation of international law.
There, Abu Habsah was interrogated for almost two weeks. “I was in so much pain at the time,” he told The Indypendent. “They kept asking me about my injuries and where I sustained them.”
Yet before his captors even examined him, Abu Habsah says they knew the details of his injuries: “They even knew the exact locations where I had been shot.”
Dawoud Yusef, the advocacy coordinator for the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Addameer, says Abu Habsah’s experiences are common among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. During protests or clashes, mostly young Palestinians pelt rocks and the occasional Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers, who shoot tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at the protesters.
Palestinians are often arrested by Israeli forces after sustaining injuries during protests and Israeli authorities collect intelligence on Palestinians who seek medical treatment, often with the cooperation of members of Palestinian society who collaborate with Israeli authorities for a host of reasons.
“The fact that Palestinians are injured is taken most often by the Israeli army as a de facto admission of guilt,” Yusef told The Indy. “The fact that you have been hit by a rubber bullet or live ammunition means you must have been present at the protests.”
However, rubber bullets and live ammunition are often used by Israel as a means of crowd dispersal. Therefore, many bystanders can also be injured and fall onto Israel’s radar when seeking medical assistance. Israeli authorities have also been known to withhold medical treatment from injured detainees in order to use it as leverage to coerce Palestinians into cooperating during interrogations, Yusef said.
During his 18-day detention, prison officials did not change Abu Habsah’s bandages, causing his wound to become infected. Then, three days after he was released from custody, Israeli forces raided the Dheisheh camp — a near nightly occurrence in the West Bank — and released live ammunition on its residents. He was shot again in his left leg.
Abu Habsah, who was forced to dropout of school owing to his injuries, says many of his friends are reluctant to seek treatment for wounds sustained by Israeli forces, fearing that they too will become the target of arrest.
He is just one of the countless young Palestinians in the Dheisheh camp who have been injured, arrested or killed by Israel.
When Jihan Shamroukh’s son, Raghad, was shot in the leg by Israeli forces three years ago during a predawn raid into Dheisheh, he was taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center nine miles away. The 19-year-old spent a month handcuffed to a hospital bed. Upon his release, Israeli soldiers told the teen that he would be permitted to return to his home in Dheisheh, but once he was healed they would come to arrest him, according to Jihan’s recollection.
Raghad began to slowly heal, she said, making his way from the bed to crutches. But as he got better, his family knew the day that Israeli forces would arrest him was approaching closer.
“Each night, we would all wear our day clothes, in case the soldiers came,” Jihan told The Indy as she clutched a photo of Raghad in her hands. “Before Raghad would sleep, he would place his boots beside his bed. He thought at any moment the soldiers would come to take him.”
A year after the teen was injured, Israeli forces finally came. Conducting an overnight raid, they ransacked Raghad’s room and said they had found pieces of weapons — an allegation Raghad, now 22, and his family vehemently deny. He has since been held in Israel’s Ofer detention center near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank and was charged in May with illegally possessing weapons and sentenced to three years.
In prison, he continues to suffer from his injuries, his mother says, explaining that one of the nails that doctors inserted into his leg to hold it together has broken. Her son needs treatment in order to fix it but prison officials have refused to transfer Raghad to a hospital.
“He is still recovering,” his mother says. “It’s very difficult for him to balance and he falls over a lot. His body is still sensitive and weak.”
Yet while Jihan constantly worries about her son’s condition in Israeli prison, she feels grateful that he is still breathing. Raghad’s friend, 21-year-old Raed al-Salhi, was shot multiple times during an Israeli army raid in 2016 and succumbed to his wounds a month later.
“Raed was like a son to me,” she said, glancing at Raghad’s photograph. “When he was killed I cried so hard for him and his family. I thank God that my son will be able to return home one day, but for Raed and others who have been killed, they will never be able to come back to their families. The suffering never stops here.”
An Israeli army spokesperson denied the allegations raised in this article.
Photo: WOUNDED & CAPTURED: Jihan Shamroukh with a photo of her imprisoned son Raghad.