A 14-year-old Palestinian boy has been placed into a medically-induced coma after Israeli soldiers shot him in the face with a rubber bullet during a protest against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Mohammed Tamimi was shot at close range in the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank on Friday, according to witnesses.
Manal Tamimi, a second cousin of Mohammed, said the bullet entered the teen’s face below his nose and broke his jaw before getting lodged into his skull.
“The blood was pouring from his face like a fountain,” the 43-year-old mother of four told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
“It was so scary. No one knew what to do. We were scared to move him. He had passed out and we were afraid he had already died.”
With the injury causing internal bleeding, Mohammed underwent a six-hour procedure involving seven Palestinian surgeons at the Istishari hospital near Ramallah, said Manal.
The doctors removed the bullet, reconstructed his jaw and placed him into an artificial coma for 72 hours.
“His situation is very bad,” she said. “Doctors fear he may have suffered damage to his sight and hearing.”
The family will not learn the extent of damage caused by the injury until Mohammed wakes up on Tuesday.
Manal’s husband, Billal, said Nabi Saleh residents packed the hospital in solidarity with Mohammed’s family during his surgery. Many also donated blood to the injured minor.
The Israeli army did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Rubber bullets are widely deployed by Israeli security forces as a “crowd control weapon” in the occupied West Bank, prompting an outcry from human rights groups and activists who say they are too lethal to be used to break up protests.
Their usage was banned in Israel and the city of Jerusalem more than a decade ago following an investigation into the killings of at least 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel in 2000.
The Israeli security forces then began using the sponge-tipped or “plastic” bullet in Israel and Jerusalem, while continuing using rubber bullets in the occupied West Bank.
However, both rubber and plastic bullets have been causing serious injuries, and even deaths.
Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), a human rights group, said a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in December last year by a rubber bullet north of Ramallah. Five months earlier, a 10-year old boy died from a sponge-tipped bullet in the town of al-Ram, the group said.
Manal and Bilal said about 10 protesters were injured by rubber bullets in Nabi Saleh on Friday alone.
“They [Israel] claims that these bullets are not harmful and are just used to scare protesters. But, that’s not true,” Manal said.
“These bullets can kill.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem said some 19 Palestinians, including 12 minors, were killed by rubber bullets between 2000 and 2013.
Israeli military rules stipulate that “crowd control weapons” should only be fired at the lower body, and never at children.
However, Manal said security forces specifically “target children” during protests in Nabi Saleh.
This was intended as “a form of collective punishment” to hurt parents and others who “choose to resist the Israeli occupation”, she said. Many children have become “traumatised” by the actions of the Israeli security forces in their village, she added.
Manal herself still suffers from knee pains after Israeli forces shot her multiple times in the knees with rubber bullets during a demonstration three years ago.
Her brother, Rami, was meanwhile shot in the head five years ago. The bullet shattered his skull and he continues to suffer frequent seizures.
Ronit Sela, director of human rights for the occupied territories unit at the Tel Aviv-based Association for Civil Rights in Israel, condemned the Israeli use of rubber bullets during protests.
“The problem with the sponge bullets and even more so of the rubber-coated bullets is that they leave people with serious injuries, life-long disabilities and can sometimes cause death,” Sela told Al Jazeera.
“Using rubber bullets as a less lethal weapon to disperse crowds has been proven time and again to be a too dangerous weapon, because it causes serious injuries and death,” she said.
“It’s too lethal to be used in the context of dispersal.”