The human toll of U.S.-Israeli crimes

The human toll of U.S.-Israeli crimes

In Egypt, a glimpse of the countless lives destroyed


Iraq war veteran and ANSWER Coalition representative Michael Prysner reports on the Viva Palestina delegation’s journey to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian supplies.

Prysner and blinded Palestinian Ahamed Tafish, 07-09
Michael Prysner and Ahamed Tafish. Tafish was blinded during the U.S.-Israeli siege of Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.

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Today I saw the first victims of "Operation: Cast Lead."

I joined a small delegation from Viva Palestina and visited the Palestine Hospital in Cairo. This hospital, for many years, has treated some of the worst trauma from Israel’s continued aggression towards Gaza. The Israeli blockade only lets patients leave Gaza a few times a year; the last time was in January, shortly after the siege. At that time, 78 casualties were transported to this hospital, most of them victims of white phosphorous, severe head injuries and amputations.

We entered the building to see a young boy about 12 years old in the hallway in a wheelchair. One leg was still wrapped in a cast, the other was twisted beyond recognition. He was timid, and wheeled himself away.

The doctor who greeted us described the patients who were admitted from January’s massacre. He said that, in 13 years of treating Palestinian victims, these were by far the worst injuries he had ever seen. He described an unusual amount of amputations, caused by the most high-tech, devastating munitions—paid for by the U.S. government and developed by corporate war profiteers.

He described an adolescent girl who eventually died from a head trauma that could not be treated. He described trying to care for injuries that were thought to be normal burns, only to discover weeks later that they were caused by white phosphorous as cysts and infections caused by the chemicals began to develop. He described the need for mental health personnel as a vital component to every patients’ treatment there. Keeping them alive only goes so far when you have to make them want to live.

The first victim I met was Abdel Halim Jaber, 31, from the Jabalia refugee camp. Jabalia dates back to when the Zionists project was first established. Abdel’s parents were expelled from their homes and forced into this camp in 1948.

We told Abdel that we were from the United States, coming to bring over 50 cars and trucks filled with medical aid to break the siege of Gaza. He immediately broke down and started crying. We could only cry with him.

Abdel wiped tears from around the tube protruding from his nose with one hand, and with the other cradled the equipment coming out of his arms and his stomach. And he told his story.

He was walking with eight other family members to his sister’s house. There was no fighting in the area. There were no government or military buildings around; it was just ordinary city street.

A missile hit nearby. Shrapnel entered through his groin, destroyed his genitalia, his bladder, his colon, and his rectum, leaving pieces of metal throughout his body. He cannot eat anything, and can only take intravenous fluids. He relies on a catheter, artificial bladder, and a colostomy bag to function.

Abdel is still confined to a chair in the hospital. So far, he’s had six surgeries to try to rebuild him—or at least six that he remembers. The first few days were so traumatic, he has blanked them out.

He described the first week in the hospital in Gaza. The entire time, bombs were still being dropped. The hospital building was shaking nonstop, and he was sure he would be killed.

Abdel could not contain his tears talking about the trauma of thinking he was going to die every second—knowing that others were dying with every explosion, and that another explosion would surely follow somewhere.

I asked him what he wanted the people of the United States to know about the siege. "You have to expose what this has done to the children," he said. "They have suffered the most because of this."

He talked about his two sons. One of them was not physically uninjured in the attacks, but he had always received high grades in school. Since the massacre, he can’t function in the classroom and hasn’t passed a single test. "It has destroyed him," he said.

His other son, only 12 years old, developed malaria in his eyes because the blockade does not allow the necessary medication to cross into Gaza. Now he desperately needs eye surgery, but the necessary medical equipment can’t cross into Gaza either. He wept into his hand, telling us that soon his son would lose his sight permanently. Over and over, the Israeli government has denied his son permission to leave Gaza for treatment.

I met Ahamed Tafish from Zaytoun. At the age of 26, he has his entire body riddled with shrapnel. His legs, feet, arms, hands, and face are nothing but scars, craters and protruding metal still under the skin. His windpipe is now plastic. Several of his fingers were severed.

And he lost his eyes.

"I don’t want much" he said. "I only want to be able to see a little bit, so I can eat by myself, and go to the bathroom by myself."

When he was wounded, he had just gotten out of a car with his friend. Again, an area where there was no fighting, no military or government targets. A missile struck, and he saw his friend torn in half. But he was still breathing, and he ran to his aid. As he was helping him, a second missile came down, and Ahamed became another casualty.

His biggest concern now was supporting his family. Jobs are scarce, and he and his older brother were the only ones earning a paycheck and providing for their whole family. His brother was murdered in the attacks. Now blind, Ahamed doesn’t know how he can keep his family from starving.

I also met Mohammed Hamdi Khaziq. Footage of Mohammed has ben seen on al-Jazeera hundreds of times and all over the Internet, showing him as he raised two fingers in the air from what was thought to be a pile of dead bodies.

Mohammed was at his graduation from the police academy. All of Gaza’s infrastructure and government institutions were destroyed, including every police building. He was graduating in a class of 45 cadets; 40 of them were killed when a missile struck the building. "They all made their final graduation," he said.

"I wish I had died with them" he added, looking down at one stump where a leg once was, his remaining leg mangled and useless.

There were others. A man with half of his body paralyzed from a brain injury. A woman paralyzed from the waist down. This was only a tiny taste of the bitter reality that is waiting for us in Gaza.

We have all seen the images of the attack on Gaza: the demolished buildings, the Israeli tanks, the explosions, the smoke rising from mounds of rubble. Those of us with the stomach for it have seen the images of the human toll, too. Parents lifting their dead children from the ash, people buried under concrete, screaming women with severed limbs.

But actually seeing the victims—sitting next to them, putting your hand on their shoulder, watching them shake and choke as they tell their stories, telling them that you’re sorry for what has happened—is the most indescribable, painful and paralyzing way to witness the suffering that Israel has unleashed on innocent human beings. I challenge any skeptic to see what I have seen today and not conclude that the Israeli and U.S. governments are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

To all of the victims I met today, I could only offer them one thing: that I would tell their stories. That their testimonies, their wounds, and their tears would help build the movement for justice in the United States.

They wished us luck on our trek to Gaza. We leave tomorrow for Al-Arish, then to Gaza on Sunday, to meet countless more like those whom I have met today, to hear countless more tragic stories and to see countless more destroyed lives. Today was only a few among many thousands.

I only hope that people in the United States begin to hear these stories and understand that we are bound by conscience and humanity to fight for what is right: ending this criminal siege and punishing those responsible.


Prysner speaks at Gaza demo, 01-10-09

Michael Prysner speaks at "Let Gaza Live"
demonstration, Washington, D.C., Jan. 10.

Meet Michael Prysner

Michael Prysner joined the U.S. Army when he was 17 years old, hoping that he would get a college education and, in his own words, "believing that the U.S. government stood for freedom, justice and equality." Prysner was later deployed as part of the initial invasion of Iraq.

Of his experience, Michael wrote: "I spent 12 months in Iraq, doing everything from prisoner interrogations, to ground surveillance missions, to home raids. It was my firsthad experiences in Iraq that radicalized me. I soon realized that my purpose in Iraq was to be the oppressor, and to clear the way for U.S. corporations with no regard for human life.

"I separated from the Army in 2005. I understood that illegal conquering of Iraq was for profit, carried out by a system that serves a tiny class of superrich whose endless drive for wealth is at the expense of working people in the United States and abroad.

"I still had the same drive to fight for freedom, justice and equality as I did when I joined, and I understood that fighting for those things meant fighting against the U.S. government, not on behalf of it."

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