The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, April 16, 2002  


The horrible state of daily life in the Palestinian towns and camps in the West Bank is almost incomprehensible. The situation in the Askar refugee camp is particularly grim.

Reporter Michael Matza, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, paints a sad picture: "They eat stale bread moistened with tea if they have some water. A musty bag of potatoes is dinner for 12. Backyard burials are common because a shoot-on-sight curfew keeps mourners at home. Deserted streets teem with flies where blood has curdled. Everything, everywhere, wears a coat of dust as fine as talc.

"There may be worse places to live in the West Bank, but after two weeks without running water, almost no electricity, interrupted ambulance service, and Israeli army tanks charging by with machine guns blazing, residents of Askar refugee camp are feeling destroyed but also defiant against Israel and its prime minister, Ariel Sharon."

Matza writes of Dr. Mohammed Qraini, who has been treating gunshot victims on the fly, wounded Palestinians "who would have gone directly to hospitals had ambulances been able to move freely through Nablus."

"In one case, Qraini said, he stitched closed the lung of a 36-year-old woman who was wounded as she stood in her backyard. She lay at home in pain for four days, he said, before an ambulance could be cleared to pass through Israeli military checkpoints and take her to a Nablus hospital. The same round of shots killed her father, Qraini said. Unable to get to the cemetery because of the curfew, his family buried him in the garden where he fell," according to Matza's report.

Then there's Baby Shaar, a boy who died before he was given a name.

"Ali Shaar, a doctor with Save the Children, felt the frustration of not being able to save his own child. His plight is the subject of intense interest among relief agencies here. He is willing to talk about it, but shooting continued in his neighborhood yesterday. Israeli tanks barred reporters from entering. Land-line telephone service was knocked out. Cell-phone service was interrupted.

"Colleagues with the relief and development agency that Shaar works for told the story of his loss last Friday night, after his wife, Tahani, went into labor and delivered a baby boy, born five weeks premature.

" 'The baby was born about 7 p.m. and needed an incubator and a glucose IV,' said Thomas Krift, director of Save the Children's West Bank/Gaza field office. 'So Ali called the Palestinian Red Crescent Service for an ambulance. Because of the military offensive in Nablus, the PRCS said they were no longer able to move after dark due to the great risk,' Krift said.

"Shaar kept the baby warm and administered glucose injections from syringes that he had at home. For a time the baby seemed OK. Several hours later, when he took a turn for the worse, Shaar and his sister Alia, who also works for Save the Children, made urgent appeals to the Red Crescent, and this time the service tried to send an ambulance to the scene.

"Twice ambulances set out, and twice they were shot at, said Krift, whose account was supported last night by Mohammed Younis, a dispatcher for the PRCS. Neither man knew for certain who was doing the shooting, but both said they believed it was Israeli soldiers....

"Around 1 a.m. on Saturday, the baby died of respiratory distress. The next morning, the family buried him in their garden."

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |