SEATTLE, Washington — Every Friday for the past year beginning March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting along the border fence separating the besieged strip from Israel in a demonstration dubbed “The March for Return.” In the aftermath of Palestinian “March for Return” protests, the need for artificial limbs is rapidly increasing among Gazan residents affected by gun violence.
Conflict Over The Gaza Strip Occupation
Palestinian protestors are advocating the right to return to their ancestral homeland, from which Zionist militias expelled them in 1948 to create space for the newly-recognized nation of Israel. Around 750,000 Palestinians were dislocated during the expulsion and have longed to return ever since. Around two million call people the Gaza Strip home, although it is estimated that 70 percent of its population consists of registered refugees.
The protestors are also demanding that Israel put an end to the 12-year Israeli blockade. Although Israel officially ended its military presence in the Gaza Strip in 2005, a self-proclaimed “Islamic national liberation and resistance movement” took control of the strip two years later, convincing the Israeli government to erect air, land and sea blockades on the Gaza Strip, consequently isolating it from the surrounding areas.
Approximately 253 Palestinians have lost their lives due to Israeli fire since March of 2018, the majority shot during the weekly border protests. More recently, in the chaos of the renewed protests of March 2019, four Palestinians were killed with more than 40 more wounded by Israeli pushback. Israeli forces reported that there were around 40,000 protestors, some of which were reportedly throwing rocks, grenades and burning tires towards them as they fired teargas into the crowds.
The Need for Artificial Limbs
At the Gaza Artificial Limb Polio Center, technicians spend a good deal of their time creating artificial limbs with materials from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Gaza’s Health Ministry said that 136 wounded Palestinian protestors have undergone amputation surgeries since the demonstrations started in March 2018. The World Health Organization has said that 6,872 people have been victims of gunshot wounds (wounds in particular that are damaging limbs) in the last year.
One of these Gazan patients was 17-year-old Abdallah Qassem, whose leg was struck by a bullet at a rally taking place on May 14, the day the United States embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “It was only one bullet,” Qassem said, “one bullet turned my life upside down.” Qassem is now learning how to walk on his new leg and has ambitions to begin studying computer science.
Funding for Artificial Limbs
The World Health Organization, with funding from the European Union, is making plans to aid Palestinians to organize and operate a limb reconstruction unit in Nasser hospital in southern Gaza. The unit will hopefully be up and running as early as May 2019.
In addition to providing a center for artificial limbs, Sara Halimah, the WHO trauma manager, has also stressed the importance of treating infections. She fears that if infections aren’t properly treated, amputation rates will increase double-fold. Halima described the center’s goals as focused around “restoring people’s lives, preventing amputations and making sure that they are able to move again.” Halima says new amputees will need at least two years of treatment to learn how to effectively use their new limbs.
Artificial limbs provided by WHO and the Red Cross are giving Palestinian protestors a second chance in the wake of violent outbreaks. While important work is being done to help those who have been injured during the protests, more work is needed to end the conflict once and for all.