Friday, 15 April 2005

Shooting civilians in the legs

Today I heard a surgeon talking about “Israeli sniper femoral syndrome.” In a series of 115 Palestinian civilians referred to him with gunshot injuries, he treated 11 men and boys who had been shot in the lower third of the thigh by Israeli snipers. Apart from a 45-year-old, the patients were aged 14 to 22. The surgeon quoted a US doctor who said that shooting in the legs is a form of collective punishment. Not only does the individual suffer, but burdens are put on the patient’s society. Surgical treatment of these thigh injuries can take up to two years and therefore taxes medical resources. Families suffer anxiety and apprehension. The patient may require help from others for the rest of his life, and his earning capacity and ability to contribute to society is usually less than if he was not disabled.

The surgeon said that he came to realise that this was a premeditated form of injury when he was held up at Qalandia checkpoint after being summoned to hospital. An Israeli soldier at the checkpoint asked him where he was going, so he said he was a doctor going to hospital to operate. “What operation?” So he told him it was on someone who had been shot in the leg with damage to the main artery. The soldier did not understand so he turned to another soldier who said: “You know,” and pointed to the lower third of his own thigh.

In each of the 11 cases, the wounds were caused by a relatively small (6.9 mm), high velocity bullet. Snipers use rifles of this calibre fitted with telescopic sites, and the surgeon suspects they were practicing on Palestinian civilians something they might do to foil an act like a high jacking. Firing a small calibre bullet into the lower third of the thigh is likely to injure four important structures which are close together at this point: artery, vein, nerve, and the femur.

The results of such injury are bleeding, shock, and a reduction in the blood supply to the lower leg which is liable to lead to gangrene and hence the need for amputation. Most of the cases did not reach hospital within 24 hours. This was partly because patients were deliberately held up at checkpoints. Some of the patients felt no pain because of nerve injury and did not realise that surgery was needed urgently. More often delay was due to patients being deliberately held up at checkpoints. The callousness, brutality and sadism of holding up or turning back patients requiring urgent medical treatment defy belief. Over 36 months, Palestinian ambulances have been prevented access to patients needing emergency medical care on more than a thousand occasions.


Israeli sniper in Occupied Territories (arms dealer's photo)

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