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A Bullet Between Small Bones
S. Smith Patrick

I am so different than I was this morning.

The curfew lifted for the second day in a row from 9 AM to 3 PM. Such is the state of oppression that to be permitted outdoors within a few square kilometers during daylight feels like freedom.

I remember saying that it feels like they might loosen things up, that maybe they will let us out for a period each day. Others agreed.

I needed a little release. As doors closed once again in the late afternoon, I did not go visiting friends or photographing. I stayed in my room, in want of some quiet. I put my Walkman on and ignored the tanks as they rolled in front of the camp.

They will come again, I thought as I debated whether or not I should be videotaping or sound recording. I would love a day off. It is so stressful here.

I listened to a dance mix tape that I bought when I ran errands in Bethlehem. I bought several tapes for the kids. The sound of shooting broke through the dance beat. I watched smoke rise above the camp. Curfew as usual.

I turned to stretch, to dance, and to move. My body aches from confinement in small spaces without the distance to go.

As a turned back toward the window, I witnessed something I had not seen so closely before: I saw soldiers taking two blindfolded men into a tank.

Several soldiers ran back into the camp, guns pointed. I decided to watch from the top floor.

As I got to a prime lookout window, I saw a group of soldiers coming down a pathway directly toward the Ibdaa center. They had two more captives, both blindfolded.

As I peeked out a window, a soldier saw me. He pointed his gun right at me. I pulled inside.

I went to another floor and tried to look out again. He saw me again, and pointed his gun. I went to my room. During the last curfew, they shot into the center with fifty foreigners staying here.

With some final blasts, I knew they sent tear gas spraying everywhere to mark their departure. Like the kids in the camp, I am able to identify some types of shooting and bullets.

Three small kids brought handfuls of dirt to quell the waning tear gas canister in the middle of the road.

I looked out my window to see a mother carrying her small boy into the U.N. clinic next door.

The boy was five years old. He was lying on the doctor’s table crying. There was a bloody circle the size of a quarter in his forearm, near the bend. He was shot.

Yassir is the U.N. ambulance driver for Dheisheh camp. “Yalla, Smith,” he said to me. “Let’s go.”

I got into the ambulance with the mother and child and headed to the Beit Jala hospital.

When the doctor showed me the x-ray, I thought the image of the article lodged in the boy’s bones was somehow enhanced in size to help them see it better. I thought that an object that large could not have gotten into this small boy. It looked as if half of a cork was in his elbow.

When the boy was on the operating table, two doctors worked on him and one assistant held his legs down. His mother held him and stroked his other arm and his face. He was pleading that they should stop.

After dressing the wound, one of the doctors dove into his open flesh with what looked like scissors, but with ends with which to grab.

It seemed to take so long. The child was screaming with all his might. I was crying as I videotaped the event. I could not bear to witness his pain.

At some point, one of them noticed I was crying and reached back to put his hand on my shoulder.

They could not get the bullet out without difficulty.

I could see the doctor re-angling and probing the instrument deeper and deeper. It seemed impossible that so much of the metal could disappear into the boy’s arm.

Finally, accompanied by the child’s wild, fevered scream, out popped the bullet.

The bullet was the size and shape of ¾ of a wine cork. This is the “rubber bullet” the Israelis deem “safe” to use.

I realized that the x-ray did not lie. The bullet is impossibly big. It is sharp on the edges. I thought of the speed with which it must have traveled to get so deep under his skin, and to lodge into his bones.

The operation was not over.

The child’s wailing subsided until he learned that his arm must be sewn back up. With the first stitch, his screaming began again. He begged his mother to let the wound stay open.

The worse was over. The mother carried her son to a recovery area. I was told that he would stay overnight.

“Yalla, Smith.” Yassir called. “To Dheisheh.”

Driving back a call came over the radio. Another bullet wound.

We went straight to the clinic where a slightly older boy, maybe 12, was lying on his stomach on the table. Family members watched from the hallway. He was quiet. I believe in shock. He was hit in both his lower leg and his upper back, where there was considerable swelling and a large bump. He was put onto a stretcher and put into the ambulance.

Back at the hospital, I walked alongside the stretcher. Once inside, Yassir called me to an area behind a closed curtain.

How to describe with honor to the injured the horror that I saw?

On the table lay a 16-year-old boy. His head was bandaged and bloody, his eyes swollen purple. Blood was coming from beneath the bandages and had puddled on the floor. He had many tubes already going into his body. He was still breathing.

I watched as four doctors worked quickly to hold together his shattered head. “His brains are outside,” Yassir told me pointing to a large obtrusion under the blood soaked bandages. Someone was mopping the floor of blood as they kept rolling the bandages around him.

A news team arrives.

“Hallas,” the head doctor said to all of us with cameras. “Enough.” I went outside the curtain and watched many doctors and assistants come and go with bandages, instruments, bottles, and towels.

“There is nothing they can do for this one,” Yassir said as the doctors wheeled him into the operating room and closed the door.

Over the radio came another call and we headed back to Dheisheh.

Rather than take the straight main road between Dheisheh camp and the hospital, just a few miles apart, we took back roads to avoid confrontation with the tanks.

Entering the camp is no easy feat. The streets are narrow, barely enough for a vehicle. People step to the side and jump into doorways when vehicles pass.

We stopped at an intersection. Yassir received a call saying that the soldiers had entered the front of the camp. We waited for a clearance signal.

Three middle-aged women came to Yassir. One was crying, the other two shouted. He said something to them and they left, comforting the one who was crying.

“It’s the boy’s mother,” he said, gesturing to his head to imply which boy. “She wants to go to the hospital to see him, but I don’t think she should. What good will it do to see him? He is dead. I received the call that he is dead.”

There were five injuries worthy of hospital attention from Dheisheh camp today. There will be one funeral tomorrow.