MSF medical coordinator Dr Natalie Thurtle shares her experiences in treating injured Palestinians in Jerusalem.
On May 10, after Israeli police attacked and injured hundreds of Palestinians, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began providing clinical support to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRC) in Jerusalem. My MSF colleagues and I worked alongside the CRP 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 took off her jeans as gently as possible to examine her. She had a dark blue as big as an adult man’s fist on the top of her thigh. However, it wasn’t a fist that caused his injury – it was a rubber bullet. Aliya was shot dead while walking near her home with her mother. I asked her for her weight in order to calculate the correct dose of pain relief to give her. She told me that she weighs only 28 kg – and yet she was shot. She couldn’t walk, so we were worried that she might have a fractured femur. We transferred her to the hospital for an x-ray.
Meanwhile, my MSF colleague Andy was stitching 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 an eye on it. Another boy treated by our colleagues at CRP earlier in the evening had lost one of his eyes due to a similar injury. As I watched Andy and Rajah, one of our CRP colleagues, skillfully mend Walid’s young face, I couldn’t help but think of that other boy who wasn’t as lucky as him. I wondered if the people who had turned their guns on these children had ever thought about the impact losing one eye would have on a 14-year-old.
As the sun set, it was time for iftar, the breaking of the day’s fast. We shared a meal with our colleagues and enjoyed a moment of calm.
But the calm did not last long. Soon there was a great influx of ambulances. Fifteen patients arrived within 10 minutes. The team quickly assessed them, treated those who needed immediate assistance, and identified those who needed to be transferred to hospital. We saw someone with a shrapnel wound to his neck and another with a possible collapsed lung after being beaten with a gun. There was also an older man with a head trauma whose decreasing level of consciousness made us suspect brain bleeding.
While I was working I smelled like “skunk water” – unmistakably, rancid. “Skunk” is a chemical agent that smells like a mixture of feces and rotting flesh. Israeli police regularly shoot him with water cannons.
Maha, a young woman, was transported to a treatment room. She had been shot in the buttock with a rubber bullet. She told us how she fell after being shot, injured her elbow, and was eventually sprayed with skunk water as she lay on the ground. The chemical was on his face, on his hijab, on his clothes. The smell was so intense that it made her vomit. She was not only injured, but all of her dignity was taken from her.
My eyes started to fill with tears, in part from the smell and the feast of witnessing what was done to her. I wiped my eyes and treated her.
Then there was a lull. We heard that ambulances were prohibited from entering parts of the old town and wondered if there were any patients who needed our help but couldn’t reach us. Fortunately, whatever the problem was, it was resolved quickly. Another group of patients quickly entered the clinic and we rushed to assess and treat them.
We continued our work until another MSF team arrived to take the next shift. However, our colleagues at the PRCS continued. They told us they would stay the night if they had to.
I cannot underestimate the incredible work of the paramedics we worked with on Monday. For days, they have dealt with the victims of this particular escalation, and they have successfully managed 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 resilience and light they bring.
The narrative that those affected by this violence somehow deserve it is wrong. The people I saw and treated on Monday were children, women and men like me and my family. These are humans who happen to be Palestinians.
* All patient names have been changed
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.