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At 6:30 AM, on a spring morning of April 20th, 1994, Fathi Al salmi, then, 15 years old, was about to leave his home to go to school. As he was walking the doorsteps, a bullet struck him in the thigh of the right leg. It was a moment to set off an odyssey of living with a permanent injury for the rest of this young man's life.
Living in Khan younis Refugee Camp, Fathi has undergone, so far, 27 surgical operations on his leg since 1994. He was hit with only one bullet but of a very different and destructive type. The Israeli soldier shot Fathi with a bullet type called Dumdum. The bullet simply explodes into tiny pieces inside the muscles or flesh. Fathi found himself at a tender age becoming busy rushed into operation rooms to clean his leg from the left over of one bullet, which hit him seven years ago.
At times, all of a sudden, I feel like a massive electric shock violently shaking me from the leg. Said Fathi as he tried to explain what it is like when a tiny metal piece touches nerve lines in his leg. He said the Dumdum pieces were poisonous and mixed with chemicals. He often feels the painful reactions in the leg as he is still growing to become a big young man.
Fathi's uncle was looking sad as his nephew was trying to show the damaged leg. The uncle said, Fathi, my nephew, as you see, is big and healthy. The Israeli soldier is full of hate and could not tolerate watching a big boy like him living a normal life. He wanted to cripple him permanently. The soldier's heart is sick. The heavy smoking uncle was speaking with a broken heart realizing the sad fate of his beloved nephew.
The 22-year-old victim, Fathi, described how he was shot that morning. I thought it was just another regular school day. He said. The army had already occupied the tall building (3 floors) in our neighborhood. And for three months, they spread their terror on us. I guess one soldier decided to pull the trigger to shoot me. I was only going to my school. Is that a crime?
As he tried to untie his artificial leg to show the damage. He told the story of going through 17 operations between 1994 and 1997. Doctors had to do difficult surgeries especially when operating on nerve system of the leg and blood vessels.
Eventually the doctors decided to amputate Fathi's leg in 1997 from just below the knee. However, that did not mean the end of the saga of medical operations. Following the amputation, Fathi again did 10 more surgeries, mostly cleaning his leg from dumdum pieces. It is vitally important to get ride of the metal pieces because they destroy the never system lines in the leg. That is why, also, doctors carried out nerve implanting operations to compensate for lost parts. Right now, the aim is to focus on those two goals; nerve implanting and cleaning dumdum pieces.
Khan Younis refugee camp is only two Kilometers away from the medeteraian beach. Swimming has been always the favorite hobby of the athletic Fathi. But, this year, the beach is completely cut off and Fathi, like the rest of the twon people, can not reach the beach. The whole city's population, 180,000 people, is now deprived from reaching their town's beach. Israeli army built a huge military bunker with a checkpoint to prevent residents from enjoying the seaside this summer. Also the illegal Jewish settlement of Neve Dakalim occupied the spacious area between the city and the beach. No one can dare of going through as the whole settlement is surrounded by tanks and heavily armed bunkers. The beach of the town has turned into a deadly military zone that includes tanks, heavy guns, helicopters, and missile launchers. All of that is to protect less than 200 illegal setters. In the meanwhile, they are inflicting continuos terror and misery on a population of 180,000 people.
Swimming as a physiotherapy has been helpful for Fathi's leg over the last several years. I love swimming very much. But the army does not let me through like the rest of the town's people. I can not swim any more to strengthen my leg muscles. The artificial leg is not fitting well anymore. Good artificial parts are not available in Palestine. He has been looking for a more suitable one but to no avail. A small walk in town requires a huge effort. Now, my mobility is very limited. I feel like I am in prison. Said Fathi.
Since October 2000, the beginning of the current intifadah, the number of injured Palestinians has reached more than 23 thousands. According to Palestinian ministry of health, half of the injured victims will suffer a permanent physical handicap. How many Fathis are outhere? And how many more will suffer similar fate like him?
As to what the future means to Fathi, he reflected,・personally, the plan now, I need several more operations on my leg. I am looking for a good quality artificial leg.・Then, he smiled and continued,・Of course, I want to get married and establish a business to become financially independent. When I am cured, I need a wife and my own home.
August 11th. 2001
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