by Ben Lynfield
(IPS) WEST BANK --
Jalil Hmeid, a 19-year-old Palestinian, struggled to bring some mobility back to his crushed leg, Mohammed Abiyat, a slain fighter from Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, was being elevated to larger-than-life status as a martyr of the Palestinian uprising.
"Today, I can only watch the uprising, I'm not able to do anything about it," said Hmeid from his chair in the cafeteria of the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, the largest rehabilitation facility in the West Bank.
Hmeid, who has been in the facility since he was shot in the leg last October, follows the intifada very closely on the society's television set in the cafeteria. Yesterday, the screen was filled with pictures of Abiyat, masked and holding a Kalashnikov rifle. He had died a day earlier during a battle with Israeli forces.
As is often the case with fallen fighters, an announcer eulogized Abiyat in effusive terms, calling him "a martyr of Palestinians' rights" and "an unmovable mountain."
The accolades fused with the sound of groaning from a youth in a wheelchair, who was being fed his lunch by a staff.
While Palestinian society glorifies martyrs, fighters and stone-throwers, those who were merely disabled face an arduous struggle to preserve their self-esteem and come to terms with their new limitations.
About 1,500 Palestinians have become disabled during the intifada, their injuries including being unable to walk, loss of an eye, and loss of hands, according to Atef Shubita, a researcher at the West Bank-based Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute, a Palestinian non-governmental organization.
According to Suad Daoud, head nurse at the facility, for the first two or three months, youths who are disabled view themselves as heroes who sacrificed on behalf of the national cause. But then, "there is a second stage when they see themselves as disabled and become upset and depressed. If their problem is not so bad, they'll recover quickly, but if they feel they won't walk well or live well, their depression will go on for a long time."
In the third stage, the youths learn how to cope with their disability, Daoud says.
Hmeid, the wound to the leg has made it impossible for him to walk, for now. But it has not prevented him from studying for high school matriculation exams. A teacher visits him at the facility, to help him make up for missed lessons in Arabic, English and history.
"I used to study for six hours a day in school and three hours at home," Hmeid says. "Now I study for an hour and a half. My result on the test won't be so good. If I succeed this year, fine, if not, I'll take it again next year."
Hmeid is definitely not in the heroic phase now. He wishes he had not been hit by the bullet, which he says struck him as he was carrying a 5-year-old child to an ambulance in the nearby village of Tekua.
"I'm in pain. Every day there is pain," he says.
"The intifada is not a very positive thing," Hmeid adds. "What have we done to the Israelis? Nothing, while they kill five, 10 or 20 of us a day."
When Hmeid is discharged, and he says that will not be for another five months, he will go back to a community that has virtually no facilities for the disabled, and which, at least until recently, attached a stigma to them. "It used to be shameful to have a disabled person in the family, but in the last few years this has changed, largely because of work on the issue by NGOs," says Shubita.
Still, Shubits adds, "there is no safety net, there are no facilities for those using wheelchairs and there are no special services."
Hmeid hopes to turn his experience to the benefit of others by studying physiotherapy at nearby Bethlehem University. "Someone who has been through what I have will be able to understand what people go through," he says.
But many of the disabled have less to look forward to than Hmeid. Ibrahim Abu Turki, a father of 10, arrived in the facility last week. He is paralyzed in his left arm and lower limbs as a result of being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier while riding his donkey in the West Bank city of Hebron on Oct. 13. The army launched an investigation into the shooting, but it has not issued any findings.
"Allah, Allah, Allah," repeats Abu Turki as he stares from his wheelchair at visitors. He was a farmer until he was shot.
While the army investigation proceeded, or more accurately stalled, Abu Turki was treated at a facility in Saudi Arabia, to little avail. His prognosis is not optimistic, say staffers at the facility.
"It will be impossible for him to walk again, he is a hopeless case," says a nurse. "The goal of his treatment is to be as independent in activities as possible, in terms of his personal hygiene and feeding, his mobility on his wheelchair and communication."
"I tried to train him in using his wheelchair, and he started crying," says Ahmed Afaneh, a student in occupational therapy who works at the facility. "I am sure that he is always asking himself, why did this happen to me?"
May 14, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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