In Gaza Protests, Israeli Troops Aim for the Legs

For eight months, Israeli snipers have targeted one part of the body more than any other — the legs

The Associated Press
The Associated Press
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In this combination of 10 photos taken on Sept. 19, 2018, Palestinians shot in the legs during demonstrations at the Gaza strip's border with Israel pose as they await treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Israeli forces deployed along the volatile border have fired live rounds at rock-throwing Palestinian protesters since demonstrations began in March against Israel's long-running blockade of Gaza. Israeli snipers have targeted one part of the body more than any other: the legs.
Combination of 10 photos: Palestinians shot in the legs during demonstrations at the Gaza strip's border with Israel pose as they await treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF, Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

Israeli forces deployed along the volatile border with the Gaza Strip have fired live rounds at rock-throwing Palestinian protesters ever since demonstrations against Israel’s long-running blockade of Gaza began in March.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Mohammed al-Eissawi, 24, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Al-Eissawi says he was throwing rocks with a slingshot when he was shot in the leg several times. He has been protesting for five years and has been injured many times. He says that he is not afraid and will continue to take part in protests.
Mohammed al-Eissawi, 24, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

And for eight months, Israeli snipers have targeted one part of the body more than any other — the legs.

The Israeli army says it is responding to weekly assaults on its frontier by Palestinians armed with stones, grenades and firebombs. The military says it opens fire only as a last resort, and considers firing at the lower limbs an act of restraint.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Mahmoud Saad, 25, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Saad says he was throwing rocks while at the border when he was shot in his left leg.
Mahmoud Saad, 25, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

Still, 175 Palestinians have been shot to death, according to an Associated Press count. And the number of wounded has reached colossal proportions.

Of the 10,511 protesters treated at hospitals and field clinics in Gaza so far, at least 6,392, or roughly 60 percent, have been struck in the lower limbs, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 5,884 of those casualties were hit by live ammunition; others have been hit by rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Mohammed al-Rafati, 24, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Al-Rafati said he was resting between burning tires during a demonstration when he was shot. He still joins other protesters every Friday.
Mohammed al-Rafati, 24, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

The upsurge in violence has left a visible mark on Gaza that will likely remain for decades to come. It is now common to see young men walking through dilapidated streets on crutches. Most have legs bandaged or fitted with a metal frame called a fixator, which uses pins or screws that are inserted into fractured bones to help stabilize them.

The wounded can often be seen gathering at a treatment clinic run by the Paris-based medical charity Doctors Without Borders in Gaza City, where Associated Press photographer Felipe Dana took portraits of some of them.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Abdel-Fattah al-Khatib, 19, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Al-Khatib was shot in the leg by a soldier when he came close to the fence at the protest site.
Abdel-Fattah al-Khatib, 19, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018. Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

Some of those he photographed acknowledged throwing stones toward Israeli troops during the demonstrations. One said he had hurled a firebomb. But others said they were unarmed bystanders; one paramedic said he was helping rescue the wounded, while another man said he was waving a Palestinian flag and another said he was selling coffee and tea.

International human rights groups have said the military’s open-fire rules are unlawful because they allow the use of potentially lethal force in situations where soldiers’ lives are not in immediate danger.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Fathi al-Sakani, 19, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Al-Sakani was taking part in a protest when he was shot in his right shin.
Fathi al-Sakani, 19, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018. Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, rejected international criticism that Israel’s response has been excessive. Instead, he said that firing at people’s legs was a sign of restraint.

“Sniper rifles against hundreds or thousands of rioters that are violently trying to get into Israel with the open aim of killing Israeli civilians or abducting Israeli soldiers, I don’t think that’s disproportionate,” he said. “I don’t think it’s disproportionate to shoot at feet or legs to get them to stop, rather than killing them.”

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Mohammed Hilles, 18, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Hilles says he was on the border chatting with other youths when he was shot in the abdomen and in the right leg. He wants to keep on protesting.
Mohammed Hilles, 18, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

Doctors Without Borders said this month that the huge number of patients was overwhelming Gaza’s health care system, which has already been severely weekend by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt that has fueled economic stagnation and rampant unemployment, and devastated water and electricity supplies.

The Paris-based aid group said the majority of the 3,117 patients it has treated have been shot in the legs, and many will need follow-up surgery, physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Ahmed Abu Marahil, 20, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Marahil was shot as he made his way towards a fence at the protest site.
Ahmed Abu Marahil, 20, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

“These are complex and serious injuries that do not quickly heal,” the group said. “Their severity and the lack of appropriate treatment in Gaza’s crippled health system means that infection is a high risk, especially for patients with open fractures.”

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Mohanad al-Khawas, 20, poses as he awaits treatment at a clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in Gaza City. Al-Khawas was selling coffee and tea from a push cart at a protest when he was shot in the right leg; he says he was trying to coax his nephew to leave the site.
Mohanad al-Khawas, 20, poses as he awaits treatment at a clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in Gaza City, Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

“The consequences of these wounds ... will be lifelong disability for many,” the aid group said. “And if infections are not tackled, then the results could be amputation or even death.”

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Mahmoud 19, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Mahmoud says he lost about 10 centimeters (four inches) of bone from his injuries and is far from recovery five months later.
Mahmoud 19, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

Gaza’s Health Ministry says it has carried out 94 amputations since the protests began, 82 of them involving lower limbs.

In this Sept. 19, 2018, photo, Ahmed Subeih, 24, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders. Subeih was throwing rocks at the protest when he was shot; he believes what happened to him was "God's decision."
Ahmed Subeih, 24, poses as he awaits treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders, Sept. 19, 2018.Credit: Felipe Dana,AP

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