Just A Rubber Bullet

Category: World Affairs Views: 746

Article first appeared in the April/May 1999 issue of Washington Report On Middle East Affairs. Reprinted with permission.

"Lulu came home from school at about 3 o'clock," her father said as he began relating the tragic story. "She asked for money and set off to buy ice cream with a friend. The streets were quiet; there were no demonstrations or disturbances in the area - just a regular day in the refugee camp. Suddenly we heard the sound of gunfire. A few minutes later her friend ran into our house, the ice cream still dripping in her hand; she was crying, 'Lulu's dead, Lulu's dead.'"

Muhamed stopped for moment before he continued: "Only later we learned that Israeli soldiers had emerged from a side alley, and when the scared children started running, the soldiers fired."

Six-year-old Lulu Abu Dahi was struck in the head by a rubber bullet and sustained an open wound with protruding brain tissue in the right frontal region of the cranium. She was rushed unconscious in a private car from Shabura Refugee Camp to Nasser Hospital, Khan Younis. No one in the dilapidated hospital could treat her and after receiving first aid she was transferred via ambulance to Tel-Hashomer medical center, Israel. A month later the bullet was successfully removed by craniotomy. Lulu had suffered massive damage to both the left and right sides of her brain and was left totally paralyzed.

No investigation was conducted following Lulu's injury. Only when the Abu Dahi family demanded an inquest, two years after the shooting, did the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) agree to investigate the incident. Six months later the family's lawyer was informed that, "The investigation by the Military Police was initiated following your request. As the complaint was filed about two-and-a-half years after the event, it was impossible to locate most of the material relevant to the activities of IDF forces on the relevant date. We have accordingly ordered that the file be closed."

Five years ago I visited Lulu at the Arab Society Rehabilitation Center situated in Beit Jallah, a village adjacent to Bethlehem. At the time, I was the director of Physicians for Human Rights, Israel, and we were working on a report about intifada-related head-injuries. Lulu was 10 years old when I saw her, and was totally unaware of her surroundings. The neurological report described her as being "vegetative...when spoken to in her language, responds with crying only."

In 1995, Lulu was returned to her parents' house in Shabura Camp. Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian authorities were willing to pay the bill at the rehabilitation center, and her family could not. Two months ago Lulu died, about 10 years after she was shot and just one day before her 16th birthday. Coincidentally, a week after her death the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem published a report discussing rubber bullets. According to the report, the IDF uses rubber bullets -which are made of zinc and merely wrapped by a thin layer of rubber - because they are considered to be less lethal than regular bullets. The report indicated, however, that since January 1998, at least 58 Palestinians had been killed by rubber bullets. Of these, 28 were children under the age of 17, while 13 of them were under the age of 13. Lulu can now be added to the statistic. The report does not mention how many people were wounded by the "less lethal" bullet, but one can imagine that the number is in the hundreds, if not more.

Barely a month passed after the report's publication when yet another Palestinian fell victim to a rubber bullet. It was Jan. 26, 1999, and the bulldozers had already arrived in the East Jerusalem village of Issawiye, located a few minutes walking distance from my apartment.

Ahmed and Issa Abu Awais' house, which had been built three years earlier and was home to 14 people, was slated to be demolished. Demolition is one of Israel's draconian policies toward Palestinians that has not changed since the signing of the Oslo agreements in September 1993. It has reduced to rubble over 500 houses in the past five years. The village's residents did not intend to let the Israeli authorities implement the policy without resistance and had gathered around the house in order to protest the demolition.

By firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Israeli soldiers dispersed the protestors, blazing the way for the bulldozers, which demolished the house. In the process, at least five people were injured, among them 22-year-old Zaki Noor Abeid, who was hit in the head by a rubber bullet. Zaki died in Hadassah hospital three days later.

Footage shown on Israeli TV and a preliminary inquiry verified that scores of Israeli soldiers had recklessly shot at the protestors. Yet the investigative team has already notified the public that no one will be tried for manslaughter. Unlike regular bullets, which can be traced to a specific gun following ballistic inspection, the origin of a "rubber" slug cannot be determined; consequently there is no way to ascertain who shot the fatal bullet.

While I do believe that the person who pulled the trigger must pay the price, one should keep in mind that the soldier, like the rubber on the bullet, is but a bolt in a well-oiled machine. Indeed the killing and oppression of Palestinians will not end by removing this or that soldier from duty, or by replacing regular bullets with rubber ones, but only by terminating the occupation. In spite of what people are told, it is obvious to those who live in this region that in many ways the occupation still persists.

  Category: World Affairs
Views: 746
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