RAMALLAH, West Bank - I was 11 in 1967 when the Israeli army occupied Ramallah and I hid with my brothers and sisters beneath our beds, waiting until we would die under the heavy Israeli
fire. I tried after that to live a ''normal'' life with my family, to go to school, play, dance my favorite dabkeh (a folk dance) and dream of a better life.
I was 12 when I participated in a demonstration against the Israeli occupation for the first time. I still cannot forget the pain I felt when a soldier beat me until I lost consciousness. It took me a long time to realize why that soldier had beaten me so harshly. I had done nothing except to say peacefully: ''I don't want you here.''
When I was 18 I left my country on a scholarship to study medicine abroad. I used to come and go via the bridge to Jordan and each time I crossed I felt the humiliation that the Israeli occupiers inflicted on us Palestinians. Each time I was kept for many hours by Israeli soldiers, just like many other students and young people, and asked questions about my studies, my friends and my political views.
Once I was interrogated for two hours because I was reading a book while waiting for my turn to go through. Once an Israeli soldier on the Allenby Bridge was punished by his commander for giving me water to drink after I had been interrogated for three hours.
When I started working in our hospitals I learned what medical schools couldn't teach us: what it means to work under military occupation, to feel so frustrated that you are running out of alcohol or cotton or bandages or essential antibiotics for a dying baby. Or to
be faced by injured youths when you are not trained to deal with ''war casualties.''
Still, I had a space for ''the other.'' I was on call in the emergency room when casualties from a traffic accident arrived at the hospital. I can still hear the voice of the Israeli settler mother calling for her tinok (baby in Hebrew). I brought her baby to the semiconscious mother to tell her that her baby was safe. I kept the baby with me until an Israeli ambulance came to pick up the casualties.
And I can't forget the eyes of an injured Israeli soldier, calling for help, who had run away from a confrontation with Palestinian youths. I treated him and helped him to escape: I saved his life. I have no regrets.
I always tried to see the other side of each and every Israeli I met, including the Israeli soldiers on the many checkpoints I had to pass through four or five times a day, on my way to work as a pediatrician in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza. I even tried to learn more about the Israeli people, their culture, their religion and their language. And I made some Israeli friends.
To know what it means to live under occupation, you have to go through it. It means to be humiliated and harassed every minute. Your water, your electricity, your economy, your freedom to move around, your freedom to express yourself and your land all are controlled by a foreign military force. You ingest the occupation in the oxygen that you breathe, the water that you drink, the food that you eat, and the news that you read or watch at the end of the day.
I tried my best, not to accept it but rather to try to adapt to it and find ways to live a ''normal life,'' as people all over the world do. I wanted to live in peace with myself and with my family, and to be honest with my daughters.
I tried to love rather than to hate. But to see Mohammed Durra, 12, being killed in cold blood! And to read that Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli chief of staff, thinks that Mohammed had been participating in demonstrations against the occupiers once before, when he was 7, and so Mohammed deserved to die! And Sarrah, not yet 2 years old, killed by an Israeli settler! Why? And what should I tell my daughters Dana, 16, and Tala, 11, when they ask me: ''Mom, can you protect us? Mohammed's father and Sarrah's father couldn't protect them!''
After three weeks of the current uprising, an analysis on Oct. 24 by the Palestinian Ministry of Health of casualties and types of injuries yielded the following figures: 8 percent of the dead and 10 percent of the wounded are under 18 years old; on one day, Oct. 23, 15 percent of those wounded died; the overall percentage of wounds to the upper parts of the body (heart and head), initially 50.2 percent, has gone up to 83.2 percent; the use of live ammunition has gone from 20.2 percent to 57.7 percent, and now to 82 percent; 18 percent of all wounded are in a state of clinical death, critically wounded, paraplegic or quadraplegic; 20 percent of all the wounded are likely to remain saddled with a permanent disability; the average age of all dead or wounded persons is 21 years.
These are the statistics that lie behind my daughters' fears and my own shifting convictions regarding Israeli intentions. The psychological scars our people will endure from the present slaughter are incalculable. I hear behind the din of these cold statistics and of my daughters' cries the echo of Mohammed Durra's voice, asking for protection for our people in the 21st century. This plea must be heeded by all those who still believe in humanity.
The writer, a pediatrician, is director of the Palestinian Happy Child Center, a multidisciplinary organization tending to the well-being of Palestinian children.
Copyright 2000 IHT