Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Brian

Posted by Andy Hockley on 7 April, 2003

The International Solidarity Movement is one of a number of organisations working in the Occupied Territories to provide protection and witness to the civilian population. Delegations work in a number of Palestinian cities – ferrying food and water to people kept inside under Israeli declared curfews, which can go on for months at a time; accompanying the sick and infirm to hospitals and medical assistance; helping farmers harvest their crops while illegal settlers look on with murderous intent. The organisation is staffed by Palestinians and foreign nationals from many nations, working to provide non-violent resistance to the worst facets of the occupation.

As internationals they have, until recently, been spared from the violent actions of the Israeli army directed at the local population. Three weeks ago that fact changed when Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, was crushed and killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza while attempting to prevent house demolitions. The Israelis say that the driver did not see her, an argument disbelieved by independent eyewitnesses. He, the driver, is now back at work after a brief internal investigation. Rachel’s death became a cause-celebre among anti-war groups and others working to end the occupation, but in the general Western media, their eyes firmly focussed on Iraq, it raised barely a murmur. Perhaps the Israeli army have taken heart from this.

Last night we were woken by a phone call at 4am. One member of the local Jenin delegation, and a close friend of Susie’s, Lasse was on the line. He was calling from Haifa, where he was waiting for news of his American colleague, Brian, who had at that point been in surgery for the last four hours.

Yesterday evening, just around dusk, the ISM delegation had been gathering on a street corner to head for the refugee camp, from where shooting had been heard. On one street corner, Brian was waiting with Tobias, the Swedish leader of the delegation, while the remaining four ISM members in Jenin were on their way. As they stood waiting, two tanks bore down on them. Both men stood their ground, safe in the knowledge that their reflective vests identified them as international observers, and therefore no threat to the soldiers. The tanks stopped, and a ten minute standoff developed. Just as the remaining four members of the delegation approached, a soldier sitting atop one of the armoured vehicles behind a mounted machine gun, opened fire on Tobias and Brian. 5 of the 6 delegates scattered. One didn’t. Lying face down and motionless in the road was Brian. Lasse turned and went over to him. Turning him over he saw that half of his face had been shot off by a bullet. Almost paralysed with shock, Lasse somehow managed to remove his own t-shirt and wrap Brian’s head in it.

As the armoured vehicles drove off, not stopping to check on the damage they had done, the ISM team called for an ambulance, the same ambulance that they are more accustomed to travelling around in as protectors, not as patients. Brian was whisked off to the local hospital, at which the doctors did all they could for him, but in the end said that he needed to be treated in a well-equipped hospital. That meant Israel. The closest town in Israel is Afula – less than 20 miles away on the map, but a lifetime away for many here. Before the ambulance could leave, though, permission had to granted by the Israeli forces. As Brian lay in the hospital bed, critically injured, the Israeli authorities delayed for well over an hour before granting the necessary permission.

Eventually allowed to leave, the ambulance took Brian to Israel and Afula. From there he was urgently evacuated to Haifa, where a better equipped hospital awaited. Ironically he was taken in a military helicopter, so often used to bring suffering to the local people, but here used to bring relief. Once again, as on many previous occasions, the treatment from Israelis within Israel proving to be humane and compassionate. One wonders whether any of these people who can be so warm and hospitable have any idea of what is done in their name in the semi-lawless military training ground that is Palestine.

Brian, I am happy to report, is recovering. Unable to speak, he has been able to talk to his parents in New Mexico by listening to their words and writing down what he wants to say so that Lasse can speak the words. The reconstruction of his face has, doctors think, been relatively successful.

It is not known what action, if any will be taken against the soldier who decided to rearrange Brian’s face. Already the Israeli army spin doctors are claiming that there was a gun battle going on and that they don’t know whether it was an Israeli bullet that hit Brian. No doubt they are hoping that by the time they admit that this is all a fabrication, the attention and interest will have moved on.

Arriving at Tel Aviv airport or at checkpoints into the West Bank, foreigners are greeted with suspicion and incredulity. We are told that it is very dangerous and that we shouldn’t go to “the Territories”. They are right. Quite apart from over 1000 Palestinian dead, in the past year 4 foreigners have been killed in Palestine and one, Brian, critically injured. 2 were killed by illegal Israeli settlers in Hebron, the other three were victims of the Israeli army. It is dangerous, but not because of the Palestinians.

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