It was a Tuesday afternoon in California, the United States, when Amina Salah got a call from her family in Palestine saying her 14-year-old brother Mahmoud Salah was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper. Palestinian ambulances were prevented from reaching Mahmoud, and he was arrested and taken by an Israeli ambulance to the hospital after having bled for over half an hour. Being thousands of kilometers away from her family, Amina was frantic.
Amina wrote posts on social media appealing to the international human rights community for help. She also published her account on Mondoweiss, a news and opinion website about Palestine, Israel and the US. “I want to speak about Mahmoud’s story for people to know about Israeli occupation in Palestine,” Amina wrote.
The night the Israeli soldier shot Mahmoud
It was 9:30pm on May 21 and Mahmoud was hanging around in the neighbourhood with his friends. During the month of Ramadan, it’s normal for children to hang out in the neighbourhood after they break their fast.
The Salahs live in al-Khader, a small town south of Bethlehem. Their home is situated 300m in front of a small field. Beyond the field, there are a few hundred meters of empty agricultural land, and at the end of that land is the apartheid wall that separates occupied Palestine from Israel. Armed Israeli soldiers patrol a tower on the wall.
That night, Israeli soldiers opened fire. Mahmoud was shot with an explosive bullet in the leg. Soldiers say he was throwing stones at them.
He was lying bleeding on the ground for over half an hour before Israeli soldiers moved him to the other side of the wall. This was despite the pleas from those gathered, including the Palestinian medical team that had arrived with an ambulance.
The Salahs had no information about his condition or his whereabouts.
Removed from his family, Mahmoud’s leg was amputated
The next day the family heard, through a lawyer they had approached, that Mahmoud was in critical condition at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. All the Salah family’s attempts to visit him were blocked.
On May 23, the lawyer called the Salahs with news that Mahmoud’s leg had been amputated because of the life-threatening condition he was in.
Speaking to The Daily Vox, physician Dr Shoyab Wadee says there are two reasons Mahmoud’s leg could have had to be amputated. “It could either be that his leg was in such severe condition that it could have threatened his life, for example, if he was bleeding so badly that they couldn’t control the bleeding. Or that the leg was so badly damaged, that there was severe tissue and muscle or vascular damage that the leg was not viable. That means the leg was already dead,” Wadee said.
The latter can happen with an injury like a gunshot wound, for example, or an accident, that damages the blood vessels to such a degree that the rest of the leg doesn’t get sufficient blood supply, Wadee said.
When the al-Khader locals heard that Mahmoud’s leg was amputated and the family were barred from seeing him, they held demonstrations. They demanded for Mahmoud to be released to his family.
“Ever since he woke up in the hospital, they tell us he has been having panic attacks. He is calm for several hours, and the next hours are full of screaming and crying for his leg, his mother, his father, his brother, his sisters and his home. He cries for his life back, and when he is desperate, he cries for just a phone call. But even these are not allowed,” Amina wrote.
Prevalence of Palestinian child detention cases is worrying
It has been three weeks since Mahmoud saw his family. Mahmoud is not allowed visitors besides his doctors and his lawyer. Two soldiers guard his room. When he finishes the treatment, he is to be imprisoned.
The Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) documented 120 Palestinian child detention cases from the West Bank in 2018. According to the report, more than half the children arrested whose cases DCIP documented reported experiencing verbal abuse, threats, humiliation or intimidation. Over 75% said they were physically abused during the course of their detention.
“I’m trying my best to do anything for Mahmoud”
“My brother is not just my brother, I treat him like my son,” Amina said in an interview with The Daily Vox. There is 15-year age gap between them. “I was so crazy when I heard they arrested him and moreover they shot him in his leg, and again I heard that they just amputated his leg,” she said.
“It’s really hard for me because I have a close relationship with Mahmoud. Before this happened we were speaking about him coming to visit me in America. We were deciding to do touristy things together,” Amina said.
The 30-year-old Palestinian woman moved to California from the occupied West Bank last year. Having only just settled in the US, Amina does not have the necessary paperwork to visit home.
Being so far away is difficult for Amina, she says she initially felt helpless. “I had to do something. Sometimes I feel like I am useless but I’m trying my best to do anything for Mahmoud to get him released and to help with the medical side,” she said.
In posting her brother’s story, she hoped that it would be picked by international human rights organisations who would, in turn, pressurise the Israelis to release Mahmoud. Amina also hopes these organisations can assist with Mahmoud’s medical situation, if need be.
“These organisations may help Mahmoud be released and focus on his medical situation, the psychological and physical, because he is in critical condition because of his amputation. It’s not easy for kids,” she said.
Before moving to the US, Salah worked as a social worker in her town. She knows that his amputation and being removed from his family will be traumatic for Mahmoud.
Amina’s pleas gained international traction. Mahmoud’s story was picked up by South African NGO for Palestinian activism 2 Suns Shamsaan.
South African organisation supports Mahmoud
Shamsaan Director Nadia Meer was alerted to Mahmoud’s story when she came across an article. The organisation works with Palestinian children with projects mainly focussing on health and education. Meer found Amina’s Facebook posts and contacted her, asking how Shamsaan could help.
Since then, the organisation provided legal assistance to the Salah family, and has been trying to drum up support using social media. Shamsaan also started a petition on Avaaz demanding Mahmoud’s release.
“What the family knows of his condition is very little, they can’t see him. He’s in Israel, they don’t have permission to go. We want him to be released,” Meer said in an interview with The Daily Vox.
Shamsaan arranged for another Palestinian teen, Mohammed Tamimi, to undergo facial reconstruction surgery in South Africa last year. This was after an Israeli soldier shot him in the face from close range in December 2017 and a rubber-coated metal bullet was lodged in his skull.
Provided that Mahmoud receives adequate medical assistance and that a prosthetic leg can be arranged for him, Shamsaan will not need to take similar measures, Meer said.
Going forward, doctors would need to ensure that Mahmoud’s stump heals properly, which is often not as straightforward as it seems, Wadee explained. It depends on how much tissue, blood and bone he lost. Before a prosthetic leg is fitted, the stump needs to be healthy with good tissue and muscle around it.
Mahmoud will need physical therapy to help him begin walking. He will also need major psychological help as dealing with unexpected loss of a limb, especially after a painful incident is severely traumatic.
To assist Mahmoud Salah, sign the petition demanding his release. You can also contribute financially, the banking details are on Shamsaan’s website.
Follow Mahmoud’s story on Shamsaan’s Facebook page.