A Palestinian flag covers the television in the room in the surgical ward of the Ramallah Medical Center. It’s the flag “Patrick Corsi,” not his real name, was waving during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Kufr Qadum last Friday.
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Patrick says he is not a nationalist, flags don’t turn him on, and the only reason he was holding one was to show that he wasn’t throwing stones. But even as he held the flag aloft, an Israel Defense Forces soldier took aim and shot him in the chest with a .22-caliber bullet – a “tutu” bullet, as the soldiers call it. It was removed from his body on Tuesday during surgery.
Patrick, an Italian peace activist, declined the IDF’s offer to be hospitalized in Israel. No, thanks. It’s not reasonable, he says, that those who apparently wished to kill him should treat him afterward.
Since he is using a fake name, Patrick says his parents back home don’t know he was wounded. Indeed, he and other activists from the International Solidarity Movement generally keep their names secret to avert deportation by Israeli authorities. (The ISM, says its website, is a Palestinian-led movement committed to nonviolent resistance to Israel’s occupation.)
Another of the group’s activists, Scott, 67, an American who fought in Vietnam as a paratrooper, is also not using his real name. Based on his military experience, Scott is certain that the soldier who shot Patrick intended to kill him – the fact is the bullet struck him in the center of the chest.
Various ISM members – Sophie, from Denmark, and Carly, from the United States – are constantly at Patrick’s bedside in the hospital. Israeli-born Neta Golan, a prominent activist in the organization who now lives in Ramallah, is also helping to care for him.
We arrived at the impressive medical complex in the center of Ramallah not long after the operation to remove the bullet from Patrick’s chest ended. He recovered quickly.
The 30-year-old agronomist from northern Italy has helped Zambians fight off starvation, worked in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and a year ago embarked on a bicycle journey following his passion for olive oil. The first part was educational, and included visiting olive-growing in Italy, Spain, Morocco and Greece. Patrick then flew to Israel and launched the second phase: sharing the knowledge he’d acquired with Palestinian farmers to show solidarity with them.
Patrick arrived two months ago, lived in Nablus, worked in the olive groves of the nearby village of Burin, and on Fridays joined demonstrators in Qadum.
In last Friday’s demonstration he wore a reflective yellow vest – the same kind worn by the most famous ISM activist, Rachel Corrie, when she was killed in Gaza – to identify himself as a foreign resident. He wore a cap and covered his face with cloth as protection against tear gas. There were about 100 protesters on hand, most of them from the village, along with at least one Israeli activist and a few internationals. They marched along the blocked exit road of Qadum, which ends at the settlement of Kedumim and has for years been covered with black ash and littered with scorched tires.
Three IDF soldiers were hiding behind a long-abandoned house at the end of the road. At exactly 12:21 P.M., according to Scott, who documents everything, they fired three tear-gas grenades at the demonstrators, and the participants retreated. When the gas dispersed they regrouped and set off again, waving flags and throwing stones. The sound of a single shot crackled through the air. The veteran demonstrators were certain it was a rubber-coated bullet.
The Israeli troops generally “escalate” their use of ammunition by degrees: Tear gas is followed by stun grenades, then steel projectiles coated with rubber – and finally live fire. Not this time. This time, three tear-gas grenades were followed immediately by the firing of a .22-caliber bullet directly into the chest of a demonstrator who was holding a flag.
Why did the soldier shoot? And why at Patrick? The shot was fired from a range of a few dozen meters. At that distance, Scott, the ex-paratrooper, says, the tutu bullet is effective and lethal. Similar rounds have already killed a number of Palestinian demonstrators in the territories, one of them in the village of Na’alin. According to Scott, shooting in these circumstances, in which Patrick was not endangering anyone’s life, is contrary to international law and to the IDF’s rules of engagement.
Patrick did not collapse – Scott says he saw him bend over forward in pain – or lose consciousness. Patrick was certain he’d been hit with a rubber-coated bullet. He later recalled that a month earlier he’d been standing with Julia, another Italian peace activist, at a demonstration in Qalandiyah, when she was struck in the forehead by a rubber-coated bullet. The same had happened to him now, he thought. But the villagers who rushed to his side saw he was bleeding from the chest. The Palestinian ambulance that is always on standby in these demonstrations sped to Patrick. It was 12:37 P.M., according to Scott’s records.
It was only in the ambulance that Patrick learned he had been hit with a live round. The paramedic was surprised to see he was breathing normally, but staff at the Rafadiyeh Hospital in Nablus, to which he was initially brought, prepared for the worst: Few people survive being hit in the chest by live fire. The physicians say it’s a miracle he’s alive.
An IDF jeep followed the ambulance for the first part of the trip, which took a long time because of the permanent obstruction of the road to Nablus for a period of many years now – which is also the reason for the demonstrations there. In the hospital, Patrick was informed by a representative of the Palestinian Authority that the IDF had offered to transfer him to Israel. However, he opted for the Ramallah facility.
A touching sight awaited us this week in the hospital: A group of deaf Palestinian boys and girls had come to visit this hospitalized friend. The houses of the settlement of Psagot are visible from the windows here, a sort of visual provocation of the patients.
The bearded Patrick is an impressive young man who wants to make the world a better place. He tries to avoid flying, in order not to contribute to air pollution. On Tuesday, immediately after the operation, he was still hooked up to various types of equipment, including oxygen tubes. He intends to sue the IDF, though he’s undecided about whether to hire a Palestinian or an Israeli lawyer.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated in response: “During a violent and illegal disturbance that took place in the village of Qadum, about 100 rioting Palestinians threw stones at IDF soldiers and burned tires. The force responded with riot-control means. When the rioters failed to disperse, a group of masked individuals who were using slingshots were fired at with Ruger rifles.
“Two rioters were wounded and evacuated by the Red Crescent to receive medical treatment, their condition stable. An operational debriefing was held about this. Strict procedures, parallel to the rules of engagement for the use of live ammunition, exist for the use of the Ruger rifle and 0.22 ammunition in Judea and Samaria.”
In 2001, the IDF military advocate general banned the use of Ruger bullets as nonlethal weaponry; they were to be used only in situations in which live fire was justified. Nevertheless, in 2009, the army, ignoring the ban, again began to use the Ruger to disperse demonstrations. In July 2009, the military advocate general informed B’Tselem , in response to a query from that human rights organization, that “the Ruger is not categorized in the IDF as a means to disperse demonstrations or disturbances.”
At least three young Palestinians have been killed in recent years by the Ruger, during demonstrations in Na’alin, Hebron and Bethlehem.
For his part, Patrick says he’d like to stay on in the territories – to help Palestinians working the land – and wants to tell his Italian colleagues about a place where farmers are denied access to their olive groves, and where settlers burn and loot those groves. Patrick is convinced that every Italian olive grower will be shocked at this state of affairs.
Last Saturday – the day after he was shot – the Tuscany town of Lucca held a solidarity gathering with the Palestinian people, and Patrick spoke to the crowd via telephone from his hospital bed in Ramallah. The participants at the rally were deeply moved, as I saw.
Today, Friday, in the weekly demonstration, the participants are supposed to wave Italian flags in solidarity with Patrick, the activist who was almost killed. Patrick wanted to be in Qadum today; maybe he will get there on a Friday in the near future. In the meantime, he’s in something of a quandary. One part of him, he says, wants to go back to demonstrating, but the other part is afraid to tempt fate: The soldiers who tried to kill him last week might try again.