Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

More Wounded Palestinian Children Being Treated in the U.S

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

More Wounded Palestinian Children Being Treated in the U.S

Article excerpt

More Wounded Palestinian Children Being Treated in the U.S.

The most rewarding way for American well-wishers to promote peace in the Middle East and help Palestine is to provide humanitarian help for a suffering child. As thousands of Palestinian children have been shot in pursuit of justice in the Holy Land over the past years, finding a way to participate in the healing of a grievously wounded emerging nation is not difficult.

One refugee from Gaza in need of the kind of help hard to find in his country is 13-year-old Atef Makussy. Two Israeli bullets changed his young life forever on May 18, 1993. He had gone with his two older brothers to pay their respects at the house of Hassam Hamoudi, an intifada activist who had been killed in a mysterious armed clash at the Egyptian border. Atef's family lives in the sprawling Jebalya Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip, where the intifada erupted in December 1987. Like other teenagers in Gaza's camps, Atef had seen hundreds of clashes with Israeli troops, dozens of his friends shot and a few killed during the uprising.

Assignment to Kill

Unknown to Atef or the other youths milling around the martyr's house, a squad of Israeli undercover soldiers had penetrated the densely populated camp. The Israeli military has employed such undercover units, dressed as Palestinian Arabs, during the uprising to find and assassinate hundreds of activists throughout the territories. Human rights groups documenting the struggle in the West Bank and Gaza describe these Israeli units as "death squads" because their assignment is to kill the leaders of the Palestinian resistance.

In places like Jebalya, with its 80,000 residents and thousands of angry youths ready to confront occupation soldiers, an undercover unit's arrival invariably is accompanied by bloodshed. Dressed as Arabs but looking out of place in Jebalya, the soldiers soon were discovered by the youths filling the narrow alleys near the martyr's house.

"They were almost on top of us when the shooting started," Atef recalls. A fierce clash ensued, and the soldiers fired automatic weapons into the crowd at very close range. Ismail Obeid, 16, was killed by three live bullets in the head and chest fired from only two meters away. Atef's older brother, Awni Makussy, 18, was killed by six bullets to the back and neck fired from six meters away.

"I saw my brother lying face down in a pool of blood," says Atef. "Then I was hit in the neck and chest." The steps he took to help his dying brother were the last his legs would ever take.

In addition to the two youths killed, 60 other Palestinians were wounded by gunfire in Jebalya camp that day. Two more youths also were killed that day in other Gaza refugee camps.

Atef was taken by soldiers to the Israeli Hadassah Hospital, and then transferred to the Palestinian Makassed Hospital. There he came under the care of Dr. Rustom Nammeri, the chief orthopedic surgeon.

"Atef suffered serious injury to his spinal cord, which resulted in his paralysis," Dr. Nammeri explains. "As a result, he will not walk again. He also suffered a cut to his brachial plexus nerve, which has resulted in extreme pain and paralysis of his right arm. However, this can be corrected with surgery abroad."

Dr. Nammeri referred Atef's case to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which he serves as a medical adviser. The PCRF is a non-profit American organization that arranges medical care for injured Palestinian youths who cannot be treated adequately in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since the establishment of the PCRF in 1991, 30 injured Palestinian youths and children have come to the U.S. for free medical care. Through the PCRF efforts, Dr. Rustom also traveled to the U.S. in January 1993 to study bone-lengthening techniques.

Though the organization has sponsored many seriously injured intifada children, including two boys who are triple amputees, Atef's was the most difficult case the small charity has undertaken. …

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