Fawwaz shamas dimly heard his little brother Imad call out: "Fawwaz, get moving!" A gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian snipers had broken out in the random way so common in Hebron since the start of the Aqsa intifadeh. The Shamas boys had to take cover inside their house. Fawwaz, 25, looked blankly at his brother. "I can't see you," he said. He put his hand to his forehead and saw the blood in his palm. A shrapnel fragment from a heavy machine gun had entered above his right eye. It passed close by his brain and lodged in the back of his head. The family rushed him to Hebron's al-Ahli Hospital, where he spent five hours on an operating table, then 15 days in a coma. That was in July. When he regained consciousness in August, Shamas was sent to the Arab Center for Rehabilitation in Beit Jala. His tall body had wasted and he was stick-thin. He had lost the power of speech. Each time the nurses spoke or moved, his wide eyes flickered in terror.
Shamas went back home to Hebron last month. His treatment at the rehab center still has months to go, but he wanted to spend some time with his daughter, Manar, born while Shamas lay in a hospital bed. He stood edgily on the spot where he was injured, pondering what he has lost. A local soccer star, he'll never play again, and he wonders what kind of work he'll be able to perform, even if he finds a job in the ruined Palestinian economy. The scar over his wound is a roseate bulb. The shrapnel is still inside his skull. "I'd rather be dead than disabled," he says.
The violence of the Aqsa intifadeh, which passed its one-year anniversary last week, brought a brief glow of celebrity to wounded Palestinians, whether their injuries were received as they threw rocks at Israeli soldiers or when, like Shamas, they found themselves in the crossfire. The wounds momentarily allowed them to reclaim the honor swallowed up by the humiliations of occupation, turning them into semi-martyrs. But then the fuss died down, and the truth came upon them. Once more, they're humiliated, but this time it is the indignity of being disabled in a community that can't meet their special needs. They watch their political leaders meeting with Israelis, they see the growing power of gangster gunmen in their hometowns, and they realize they've been sold out. "The intifadeh took us back 20 years," says Shamas. "We're fighting a losing battle."
Even the moments of hope are illusory after that year of violence. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat held a delayed meeting in Gaza last week to discuss a cease-fire. But both sides have been under pressure from the U.S. to cool the intifadeh so as not to harm Washington's attempts to put together an antiterrorist coalition of Arab states in the wake of the attacks on the U.S. last month. It will take more than U.S. pressure to force a true peace deal. Though the Arafat-Peres meeting was successful, it still leaves the two sides much worse off than they were a year ago, when the intifadeh began. Neither has anything to show for the violence, except awful statistics: 2,000 Palestinians and 850 Israelis permanently disabled.
The toll in the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks was shocking. But the slow accrual of death and injury over this year of intifadeh is perhaps more insidious in its effects. That's why Israel feels its back is to the wall. When British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw suggested last week that the Palestinian problem was one reason Arabs are angry enough to attack the U.S., Israeli politicians reacted with frustration and despair, as though he had said it was O.K. to commit terrorism against Israel. They were stung by the growing feeling that the conflict besieging Israel is irreconcilable.
That same angry hopelessness afflicts the youths who hobble around the four Palestinian rehabilitation centers in the West Bank and Gaza. Most of the disabled from the first intifadeh of 1987-1993 suffered spinal injuries when they were shot as they ran from Israeli soldiers. This time, the live gunfire from each side has made the wounds more devastating. Many Palestinians have been shot in the head and chest, and most of them have died. Those shot in the legs by live rounds face a long road to recovery in underfunded clinics. The Abu Raya Rehabilitation Center in Ramallah can afford only 40% of what would be spent treating similar injuries in Western countries. The Beit Jala center has a new head-injury ward standing empty because it can't afford to hire staff.
Jalil Hmeid didn't understand at first how his life had been shattered along with the bone in his right thigh. A 22-year-old construction worker from the village of Tekoa south of Jerusalem, Hmeid was hit at a riot near an Israeli checkpoint in November. His friends lifted him and took him away at a fast jog. Around him, people called out "Allahu akbar," God is most great. But as months passed the frenzy was replaced by pain in his leg and hand. His family members stopped praising his sacrifice: "They told me, 'You put yourself in harm's way, and you caused us a lot of anguish,'" he says. That guilt joined with the pain, and for months Hmeid was depressed. "I feel inferior because I'm disabled and I feel alone," he says. He shuffles across the cafeteria of the rehab center on a black cane with a curved handle. "It's been one year of intifadeh, but my problems will go on for ever." The doctors tell him he will always limp, and he'll never go back to his old job.
These disabled Palestinian youths have been pushed beyond the boundaries of sacrifice by an intifadeh that seems without achievable goals or a foreseeable end. Ahmad Abu Salim was severely injured three times in clashes with Israeli soldiers in 1996. But those scars were considered badges of honor, and the 20-year-old returned to the fray to throw stones in a riot in the village of al-Khader last November. This time it was different. Now he sits chainsmoking in a wheelchair, his shattered left leg stretched out. The bullet broke his bones, which persistently get infected, and caused irreparable nerve damage. "I often think to myself, 'Ahmad, you've caused yourself pain, and for nothing,'" he says. "I wish kids wouldn't bother throwing stones, because they'll only get shot." It's a terrible elegy for a year of violence.