Thousands Of Injuries In Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Have Lasting Impact

Aug 14, 2016
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Over the decades of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thousands of people have been killed. Many more, though, have been injured. And the injuries take place frequently, even in times when there's not an all-out war. NPR's Emily Harris got the numbers for those times and looked at the impact. And a warning here - you may find some of the descriptions in this story graphic.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Small waves from the Mediterranean Sea lap the sand in Gaza's main fishing port. Dozens of low, wooden boats line the shore. Before dawn on March 11, 2007, Palestinian Sami Goga was out on his boat trolling for sardines. Then shots rang out of the darkness.

SAMI GOGA: (Through interpreter) We were not in the water when we were hit. We made it back to shore. The Israelis kept shooting at us when we got on land.

HARRIS: The unseen shooter was presumably with the Israeli military. Israel's navy patrols the sea off Gaza and enforces with gunfire limits Israel sets on fishermen's travel. Goga's left hand was hit. He was with friends.

GOGA: (Through interpreter) Right after I was hit I told my friend, I'm going to lose my arm. It was really serious. My friend tore up his undershirt and tied it on me to stop the bleeding.

HARRIS: Although injuries in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are less noted than deaths, they are tracked. For Palestinians, NPR looked at United Nations figures from early 2005 through the end of 2015. Even outside times of intense warfare, when figures are high but harder to verify, Palestinians are most often injured by Israeli soldiers.

Over 5,000 such injuries were caused by live ammunition, nearly 10,000 by rubber-coated metal bullets, probably during clashes between Palestinians and soldiers. When you include assaults, explosives and about 14,000 exposures to tear gas, the number of Palestinian injuries totals nearly 40,000. Figures from annual reports by Israel's internal intelligence service, the Shin Bet, show more than two and a half thousand Israelis were wounded over that same time by Palestinians using guns, cars, bombs, knives or stones.

Last October, in the early days of what became a sustained wave of violence but was far from intense warfare, a Palestinian man stabbed Israeli Meir Pavlovsky as he sat on a bench reading in the West Bank settlement where he lives.

MEIR PAVLOVSKY: (Through interpreter) I got up and pushed him, but then I realized I was already seriously hurt. My stomach was open.

HARRIS: Pavlovsky ran for help toward an Israeli soldier stationed nearby.

PAVLOVSKY: (Through interpreter) I went with my intestines in my hands. Then I fell and started my last prayer. It turned out later that I had lost three liters of blood.

HARRIS: The cuts were in a rough triangle. The scar now reminds him of a map of Israel. Pavlovsky was saved in part by first aid treatment used by the military that's since been authorized for widespread civilian use. One result of the many injuries in Israel is a constant effort to improve emergency treatment. These advances have helped Palestinians, too. Sami Goga, the Gaza fisherman, was eventually treated in an Israeli hospital. But he says he's lost his livelihood.

GOGA: (Through interpreter) I love it, but to work in the sea you need both hands, not one. When I go now, two people come help me. I tell them how to do what I used to do.

HARRIS: Injuries have a financial impact. Goga gets a monthly payment from the Palestinian government to offset lost income. Israel also helps financially Israelis wounded by Palestinians. Meir Pavlovsky, the settler stabbed last fall, is still on disability.

PAVLOVSKY: (Through interpreter) My stomach is still numb. It's very unpleasant. There's a stabbing sensation in my shoulder. But more than anything, I'm bothered by sudden fears when I'm startled. It takes me hours to calm down.

HARRIS: That kind of trauma is perhaps the most widespread injury of all, affecting even people who simply see violence, says Israeli Sigal Haimov, co-founder of the victims' help organization Natal.

SIGAL HAIMOV: We see trauma and loss like a stone thrown into water. There are the ripple effects, and they affect every part of society.

HARRIS: Haimov started a hotline to help Israelis suffering from trauma.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: A woman recently called after witnessing with her children two Palestinian gunmen kill four Israelis out to dinner. Trauma ripples through Palestinian society, too, says Palestinian psychologist Rana Nashashibi. Checkpoints, nighttime arrests, life under military occupation bring people into her counseling center.

RANA NASHASHIBI: We have a lot of people who come to the center with anxiety, with panic attacks, with issues that are psychosomatic.

HARRIS: People who already have physical injuries can be less able to manage mental stress, Nashashibi says. She also says fighting back can help psychologically.

NASHASHIBI: To be actively engaged in a situation where you do not accept the oppression to be forced upon you is the healthy thing.

HARRIS: Even if that means Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers - clashes that would often lead to more injuries. Emily Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.