Israeli snipers have intentionally maimed Palestinians protesting in Gaza over the past year, creating a generation of disabled youth and overwhelming the territory’s already crippled medical system, frontline doctors have told the Middle East Eye.
According to a United Nations inquiry released this month, over 80 percent of the 6,106 protesters wounded in the first nine months of the Great March of Return were shot in the lower limbs.
Israeli soldiers intentionally shot civilians and may have committed war crimes in their heavy-handed response to the protests, which have been held regularly across Gaza since 30 March 2018, the report concluded.
Healthcare providers say the pattern of wounds shows that Israeli soldiers are purposefully shooting to maim protesters, most of whom are in their 20s and now require long-term medical care.
“The soldier knows exactly where he’s putting the bullet. This is not random. This is very intimate. This is very planned,” said Ghassan Abu Sitta, professor of surgery at the American University of Beirut (AUB) who treated injured protesters for three weeks at Gaza’s Al-Awda Hospital last May.
“When you have such a huge number of almost identical injuries, where many of the patients were 150 metres away, not in direct contact with the Israeli soldiers, you realise that this is an intentional policy rather than collateral damage,” Abu Sitta told MEE.
Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), agreed: “This is obvious. When you have almost 90 percent of the people injured in the lower limb, it means that there is a policy to target the lower limbs,” she said.
At least 136 of them have had their limbs amputated, according to the latest Gaza Ministry of Health data – 122 of those amputations have been of lower limbs alone.
But the figures don’t give a full picture of the challenges that the wounded protesters, suffering painful injuries, and their families face, as the vast majority live in poverty, said Dr Bassem Naim, who served as Gaza’s Minister of Health from 2006 to 2012.
“To be honest, it is catastrophic. Of those wounded, many of them are handicapped forever,” Naim said. “To bring them from the house to the hospital every two days for rehabilitation or care? It is a very, very huge burden.”
“I live on the ninth floor and, at least every day for twelve to sixteen hours, I don’t have electricity. Can you imagine if you are a young man without a leg?”
Not only have the lives of thousands of protesters and their families been changed, but Gaza’s struggling medical system is also under severe strain as a result of the intensive care required to treat leg wounds.
With mass demonstrations planned this weekend to mark one year since the beginning of the Great March of Return, health professionals fear the system’s breaking point may be just around the corner.