20 May 2011 — Radically Blonde
It is Sunday morning, and I am at the Nakba Day protest in Qalandyia refugee camp. The long and beautiful march with the songs, slogans and high spirit has been dispersed quickly with massive shooting of tear-gas, and all attempts to resume the march have been dispersed as well, with ever growing violence.
I am running away from another salvo as I spot five adolescents carrying someone who was injured. No paramedic can be found in the area, so I run after them, my first aid kit on my back, hoping that I can be of some assistance. They bring him to a room that is open to the street, in a side alley. An ambulance is parked at the entrance, from which two other wounded people are being removed. Five or six paramedics and a single doctor are running around between several people, only thin blankets separating them from the floor, trying, at the very same time, to wave away the people crowding outside, waiting to find out about the condition of the friends that they have carried in earlier. I address the doctor, telling him I have got some basic first aid training, and offer my help. He gives me some instructions, shows me were the equipment lies, and tells me to care for the next wounded person that will be brought in.
The wounded are streaming in incessantly. Every minute, or two, three at most, an ambulance stops by the entrance, and three paramedics rush to it asking ‘Mutauta’ or ‘Raz’? (Rubber bullets or gas?) While the injured are being carried off. Those in severe condition are carried in on a stretcher, which doesn’t leave much space in the narrow room. Then they are clumsily taken off the stretcher. There is not enough time to follow the right procedure of carrying someone who has been wounded. The rest of them are carried in by paramedics and friends, who grab their legs and hands, and more often then not forget to support their heads, and place them on the floor, as close to the wall as possible, to make room for the wounded who are yet to arrive.
At these scarce and numbered moments of recess in the stream of wounded ones, we cut onions, reorganize the room and the equipment table. Piling gauze pads and bandages on one side, alcohol and cotton wool on the other, shaking and straightening blankets, and sweeping away all the onion leftovers that fall from them.
Most of the wounded people fainted from an overdose inhalation of tear-gas. Breathing some fresh air, an open shirt, a fresh onion scale leaf, and some light slapping usually suffice to help them regain consciousness. In the worst cases we bring the oxygen balloon. They lie and sit all around, gasping, coughing, taking short breaths, their eyes shut tightly against the pain, as the tears stream down their cheeks, and we gently try to lift the upper lid, and absorb the remnants of the gas. Others were directly hit by gas canisters and rubber bullets, and as time goes by we see more and more of these injuries.
At some point, we run out of oxygen, not metaphorically speaking. The last balloon is empty, and a guy is choking in our hands, and all we can offer him are a piece of onion, cotton wool, an encouraging touch, and the fear that is written all over our faces, that this time it will not suffice.
Scattered pictures… I am rolling a white bandage around Huria’s head. She was hit by a rubber bullet in her temple. She is surrounded by friends, holding her and supporting her… Someone was directly hit by a gas canister in his chest. Luckily, the canister did not break the skin. Nonetheless there are some hectic moments. We can’t find the statoscope, or the blood pressure monitor. He will be fine… Two little girls half-fainted from the gas. In their tears the gas and fear mix together. I hug one of them as I put an alcohol pad to her face. Her mother and her sister are on the floor, on the other side of the room. Someone is taking care of them. Several moments go by. They sit and hug, leaning against the wall, trying to breathe, together. I give them one last look. There are many others that need my caring…. In a sideway look I spot a guy leaning against the wall. None of us has paid any attention to him, because he had already been treated. His head drops, his hand becomes limp, I run over to him, hold his hand, and start calling him ‘Mumtaz, Mumtaz’. I am having a basic conversation, using my poor Arabic, trying to make him stay with me, so that he will not lose consciousness. So that we will not lose him… More, and more, and more.
After an hour, and dozens, if not more than that, of injured people taken care of, the improvised medical clinic is moving to a different location. I follow the paramedics down the street, as I spot someone falling, I rush over to take care of him. In all the turmoil I lose the others, so I rejoin the demonstration that goes on and on.
And all of that happened before they started shooting LIVE ammunition.