Twilight Zone / Dogs of war
The most recent victim of the army's canine unit is Salha al-Dik, a 78-year-old mother of seven and grandmother and great-grandmother of dozens, whose arm was severely lacerated. The IDF expresses its regret.
About a month ago, we wrote in these pages about 12-year-old Mohammed Qassam, who was the victim of an IDF dog that grabbed his leg with its teeth and dragged him down two flights of stairs in his home in the Jenin refugee camp, in the middle of the night. This time it was Grandma Salha Al-Dik, 78, who was sleeping in her home when the soldiers sent out their dogs as part of a search for her wanted grandson, Rami. This week Al-Dik underwent the third operation on her arm, which refuses to heal.
In the nearby Balata refugee camp, Basel Abu Daoud, 11, another victim of the dogs, wanders about. He also lay in Rafidia, about two months ago, for 10 days, as a result of the IDF's watchdogs. In his case, the dog bit deeply into his feet and hands.
Canine terror is rearing its head, exposing its teeth. Instead of the "neighbor policy" that was declared illegal by the High Court of Justice, there is a new policy - the "dog policy" - and a new world, of man-eating dogs.
A bad smell wafts from the emergency room of the Rafidia government hospital in Nablus, through which all those who are admitted must pass. Sheets stained with blood and other bodily discharges await the next ill or injured person. The appearance of this hospital - the largest one in Nablus, the second-largest city in the West Bank - is reminiscent of the most miserable of Third World facilities, with the exception of the new burn unit that was recently dedicated here, the only one in the West Bank.
Al-Dik is lying in a room in the orthopedics ward, a room with six beds and not a single chair for guests or patients to sit on. The mattresses are disintegrating, damp. Some of them lack sheets, and the ones that do exist are stained. There is a stench in this room, too. In a bed next to that of Al-Dik lies a little girl. Every time the doctors expose Al-Dik's arm, the child shrinks in her bed for fear of the wound; her mother tells her to vomit into the garbage can in the corner of the room. The sight really is unbearable: The flesh of Al-Dik's left arm is entirely exposed, even three weeks after her night of horror.
At 2 A.M., Al-Dik awoke to the sound of the soldiers outside. It was Friday, January 13. She was alone at home with her elderly husband, Mustafa, who is about her age. The two old people were sleeping peacefully in the house in their village, southwest of Ariel. In the adjacent houses their children and grandchildren, including the wanted grandson, were sleeping. The soldiers demanded to enter, and Mustafa got up to open the door for them. They ordered him to leave the house and go to the nearby yard, where they gathered all the men in the area. It was cold. Mustafa tried to explain to the soldiers that his elderly wife had remained in the house, and they told him not to be afraid. And really, what was there to be afraid of?
After Mustafa left the house, the soldiers entered. Salha says that they were too many to count, "maybe 40"; she was very frightened and their faces were painted black. She remained seated on the mattress on the floor, which is her bed. "I remained alone in the house, in bed," she explains, adding that the soldiers noticed her, didn't say a word, and went outside. A few minutes later the dog entered. She described a frightening red animal with a collar to which an electronic device was attached. Why did the dog enter after the soldiers had already searched the house?
The dog ran toward her, jumped on her and grabbed her right arm in its teeth. Pulling away, she managed somehow to release herself from its jaws with the last of her strength. Here are the teeth marks, holes that were made in her arm. But then the dog jumped on her left arm and sunk its teeth in with greater force, deep into her flesh. She began to shout for help, but nobody heard her. She was wearing only her nightgown, and her arm was in the dog's mouth: "I shouted and shouted, until I collapsed. He overpowered me and began to eat me. I was totally finished."
She sat on the mattress and the dog stood on top of her, its teeth in her arm. Imagine.
After a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity to her, the soldiers came into the house when they heard the shouts. They removed the dog and sent it outside, to the IDF vehicle waiting there. The dog obeyed its masters; such a good dog.
Al-Dik has three sons and four daughters. She can't count the number of grandchildren she has, dozens, nor does she know exactly how many great-grandchildren she has. From her 52-year-old daughter Sahira alone, she has 14 grandchildren. Sahira has been standing over her and taking care of her day and night since she was hospitalized.
Al-Dik recalls that the soldiers fired in all directions while she was sitting on her mattress. Afterward they carried her outside and brought her to the neighbors' house, where they put her on the porch. An army paramedic bandaged her wounds and gave her medicine, perhaps painkillers, and then took her to the military ambulance parked outside. The ambulance set out in the direction of the Hawara checkpoint where, using what is called the "back to back" method, they transferred her to a Palestinian ambulance that took her to Rafidia, where she was admitted by Dr. Mumin Hares.
Hares reads from her medical file: "Admitted at 7:30 A.M. with deep lacerations in her right arm, an absence of skin, a deep wound in her left arm, five by seven centimeters, and difficulty moving her fingers. She was in shock." The doctors staunched the bleeding and took her to the operating room. Since then she has undergone another operation to rehabilitate the ligaments and blood vessels that were torn, and has been treated with strong antibiotics against infection. This week the plastic surgeon, Dr. Ziad Azouni, was supposed to perform yet another operation to transplant skin from her thigh to her arm.
A few days after the hospitalization, Al-Dik's son Nasser met the women of MachsomWatch (a voluntary Israeli group that observes military checkpoints to monitor human rights abuses) and begged them to have his mother transferred to an Israeli hospital. It didn't happen.
The IDF apologizes, not only for injuring Salha al-Dik, but also for injuring the child Basel Abu Daoud. "The IDF expresses regret for the incidents described," said the army spokesman in response, "in which Palestinian citizens were bitten by dogs, during the course of operational activity to find and arrest wanted terror activists. The incidents are being investigated in order to minimize the risk of being repeated in the future."
Al-Dik says that the shooting also destroyed her house, but in the same breath mutters: "I would have preferred it had they destroyed the house and not done to me what the dog did." The IDF remained in the village until 12:30 P.M. that day; her elderly husband was detained with the other men in one of the yards. The members of her family had no idea what had happened to her.
When the soldiers finally left, Sahira entered the house to look for her mother. "We found the house full of bullets, but we didn't find Mother," she says. Mustafa rushed to the soldiers who were still in the center of the village and asked them about his wife. "Run after her to the hospital in Nablus," they told him, according to the daughter. At 5:30 P.M. the family managed to cross the difficult and frustrating Hawara checkpoint to reach the hospital. The daughter who lives in the Jelazoun refugee camp near Ramallah arrived there before the family from Kafr al-Dik.
The wanted grandson, Rami, 24, was released from an Israeli prison almost a year ago, and lives near his grandparents. He is married without children, and was finally arrested by the soldiers.
Grandma Salha says that he was unarmed.