Israeli snipers have shot and wounded at least 6,392 Palestinian protesters in the lower limbs in eight months of weekly rallies, according to a new tally, leaving the enclave’s streets and hospitals filled with maimed victims.
Since March 30, Palestinians have massed along the shared border with Israel to call for a return to the lands themselves and their relatives were displaced from at the birth of the country in 1948. The rallies have turned deadly with Israeli snipers deliberately targeting the legs to quell the unrest.
Of 10,511 protesters treated since that day in the enclaves hospitals and field clinics, 6,392 were struck in the lower limbs with live ammunition or rubber bullets, according to the Associated Press. That figure does not include the 175 killed by Israeli sniper fire on the border. It total, at least 220 Palestinians have been killed since March in different incidents including air strikes and tank fire. A Palestinian sniper killed one Israeli soldier.
Rights groups and Gazan medics say the number of wounded is so overwhelming that Gaza’s already crippled medical services cannot cope with the fallout, leaving many unrested and at risk of infection or, worse, death.
A visible sight in the territory is now one of incapacitation, young Gazans on crutches or with their legs bound together with a metal frame.
"This many patients would overstretch the best healthcare systems in the world. In Gaza, it is a crushing blow," Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, Doctors Without Border’s chief for the Palestinian territories, said in a statement last month.
Some of those wounded say they were involved in throwing stones at Israeli soldiers but many say that they were unarmed and not posing any threat to Israeli forces when they were shot.
Israel says it is acting proportionately, stopping border breaches by shooting to maim and not to kill. It holds the rulers of Gaza, Hamas, responsible for the border protests. But rights groups say the open-fire policy breaches international law as it permits soldiers to lethally shoot protesters who pose no mortal threat to military personnel.
The enclave’s health system has been battered by three wars between Hamas and Israel since 2008 and a parallel Israeli siege that has squeezed the territory’s land crossings, its imports and exports, as well as its coastline.
Of the thousands of wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry says it has carried out 94 amputations, 82 of them on the lower limbs. If wounds are left untreated then many will face amputation
The wave of casualties on the Gaza border has coincided with rising anger of the policies of US President Donald Trump, who moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital, along with other controversial measures to change the reality on the ground.
Anger has also been stoked by the dire economic situation that has left the territory with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, especially for young people. The United Nations has warned that the territory will become unlivable by 2020 if little change takes place.
Exacerbating the situation in the enclave is a dispute between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which had suspended salaries for thousands of workers.
But Qatar has stepped in to funnel millions of dollars and pay almost 30,000 Gazan civil servants, an intervention that has angered officials in Ramallah after the deal agreed with Israel sidelined the internationally-recognised Palestinian government.
The weekly protests have continued despite wintry weather. Hamas has maintained the rallies, reducing their strength when signs of a truce with Israel are close or it takes steps to ease the blockade.