Jerusalem: ‘She is 12 years old, yet they have shot her’

MSF’s Medical Coordinator Dr Natalie Thurle shares her experiences of treating injured Palestinians in Jerusalem.

On Monday, May 10, Médecins sans frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) started supporting the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Jerusalem to assess and stabilise hundreds of Palestinians injured by the Israeli police [Tetiana Gaviuk/MSF]

On May 10, after the Israeli police attacked and injured hundreds of Palestinians, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) started offering clinical support to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Jerusalem. My MSF colleagues and I worked alongside the PRCS at the organisation’s trauma stabilisation point in Wadi al-Joz to assess and stabilise the wounded.

One of the first patients I saw that day was 12-year-old Aliya*. She cried as we edged her jeans off as gently as possible to examine her. She had a dark bruise as large as a grown man’s fist on her upper thigh. However, it was not a fist that caused her injury – it was a rubber bullet. Aliya was shot as she walked near her home with her mother. I asked her weight in order to calculate the correct dose of pain relief to give her. She told me that she weighs just 28kgs – and yet she was shot. She could not walk, so we worried that she may have a fracture on her femur. We transferred her to hospital for an x-ray.

Meanwhile, my MSF colleague Andy was suturing a 14-year-old boy named Walid. Walid was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. The wound was less than a centimetre away from his left eye. It was blind luck that allowed him to keep his eye. Another boy treated by our PRCS colleagues earlier in the evening had lost one of his eyes due to a similar injury. As I watched Andy and Rajah, one of our PRCS colleagues, expertly repair Walid’s young face, I couldn’t help but think of that other boy who was not as lucky as him. I wondered whether the people who turned their guns on these children ever considered what impact losing an 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 big influx of ambulances. Fifteen patients arrived in 10 minutes. The team quickly assessed them, treated those in need of immediate assistance and identified those who need to be transferred to hospital. We saw someone with a shrapnel injury to the neck, and another with a possible collapsed lung from being beaten with a rifle. There was also an older man with a head injury whose decreasing level of consciousness made us suspect a brain bleed.

As I worked, I smelt “skunk water” – unmistakable, rancid. “Skunk” is a chemical agent that smells like a mix of excrement and rotting flesh. The Israeli police routinely fire it from water cannon.

Maha, a young woman, was being rushed into a treatment cubicle. She had been shot in the buttock with a rubber bullet. She told us how she fell after being shot, injured her elbow and finally got sprayed with skunk water as she laid on the ground. The chemical was on her face, on her hijab, her clothing. The smell was so intense that it caused her to vomit. She was not only injured, but all her dignity was taken from her.

My eyes started to fill with tears, partly from the smell and party from witnessing what has been done to her. I wiped my eyes and treated her.

Then there was a lull. We heard that ambulances were being restricted from entering parts of the Old City and wondered whether there were patients that needed our help but could not reach us. Thankfully, whatever the issue was, it was resolved quickly. Another group of patients soon 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. Our colleagues from PRCS, however, just kept going. They told us that they would stay the night if they had to.

I cannot understate the incredible work of the paramedics we worked alongside on Monday. For days they have been managing the casualties from this particular escalation, and they have been successfully managing the complex pre-hospital needs of this vulnerable population for many, many years.  There are not words to describe the impact of their work and the resilience and light they bring.

The narrative that those impacted by this violence are somehow deserving of it is wrong. The people I saw and treated on Monday were children and women and men just like me and my family. These are humans who just happen to be Palestinian.

*All names of patients have been changed

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.