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Testimony: Soldiers fire tear gas into yard of home in Nil'in and six-week-old baby is severely injured after inhaling the gas, May '08

Ghusun Nafa', 26

I live with my husband, Rabi' Fadel Nafa', 28, on the second floor of a house that belongs to his family, in the Baten a-Shajar area of Ni'lin Village. His parents live on the first floor. Our daughter, Narjas, was born on 21 May and is six weeks old.

On Saturday and Sunday, 5 and 6 July, the Israeli army imposed a curfew on the village because of demonstrations against the [separation] fence. The next day at around 4:00 P.M., after the curfew was lifted, some kids threw stones at army and Border Police vehicles and the policemen fired a lot of tear gas at them.

Baby Narjas. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 13.7.08.
Baby Narjas. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 13.7.08./>

I was at home with the apartment's windows closed, breastfeeding my infant daughter, when I smelled tear gas. I put her on the bed and went outside to see where the tear-gas canisters had fallen. I saw two cylindrical silver-colored grenades, ten centimeters long. One was on the patio on the western side of the house and the other in the yard by the patio. Smoke was coming from them.

There were soldiers gathered next to the boys' school about 200 meters west of our house. There were about six army and Border Police vehicles parked there, and ten soldiers, more or less, were firing tear gas at the demonstrators. I returned immediately to the house and closed the door behind me. I made sure the windows were closed tightly to prevent gas from entering.

At about 6:00 P.M., I breastfed my daughter again. My husband went downstairs to his parents to get a cooking pot. When he returned, I heard tear gas being fired and falling near us. One struck the door by the staircase and another fell in the yard. When my husband opened the door and came into the house, a cloud of tear gas entered with him and started spreading. The gas also seeped in under the doors and around the windows, even though they were closed.

I was breastfeeding Narjas in the living room, which is 6X4 meters in size. I smelled a strong scent of the gas and my eyes began to tear.

The baby began to cry and scream. Her eyes were tear and she started to choke. I went to the bedroom, which has the fewest number of windows, but the gas had spread everywhere. I saw that she was breathing rapidly and feared that she had inhaled a lot of gas. I brought a piece of onion for her to smell, and her father brought a bottle of perfume for the same purpose and turned on the fan. She continued to scream and cry. We didn't dare take her outside because the gas had spread in the air, and we also were afraid of the soldiers. We also knew that we couldn't leave the village because there was a closure.

I gave her some chamomile tea to drink and felt that her condition was improving. She fell asleep but continued to breathe rapidly. Her chest was heaving up and down in an unnatural way, and she woke up every five minutes shaking and crying with no voice, as if she were hoarse. I tried to breastfeed her, but she didn't take the milk, and only let out wheezy cries. The demonstrations continued outside, and the soldiers continued to fire tear gas.

My husband's brother Ahmad went outside and collected more than 20 tear-gas duds from around the house.  

At 10:00 P.M., we heard that the army had left the village, and we decided to go in my father-in-law's car to Dr. Muhammad Ghaleb Shahawan, who lives in the village. The baby was having difficulty breathing, and her chest was heaving. I was afraid she wouldn't last through the night. It's only one kilometer to the doctor's house, but it took us fifteen minutes to get there because there were all kinds of obstructions on the road.

When we got to the doctor, he checked her and said she had been badly injured by the gas and was suffering from a chest and lung infection. He gave her an inhalant to ease her breathing and said we had to take her to the hospital because she was in serious condition. He suggested that we go home, give her some chamomile tea, and take her to the hospital in the morning.

We went home. I felt that the baby's condition was improving, but after about an hour, her condition deteriorated again and her heart rate jumped. She didn't want to drink the chamomile tea or to breastfeed and cried soundlessly.

Because of the closure and the obstructions on the road, we waited till morning to take her to hospital. At 7:00 A.M., we went in my father-in-law's car to a-Sheikh Za'id Hospital, in Ramallah. The doctors examined her and said she was not getting enough oxygen and needed to be in an incubator, and they had her transferred to the government hospital in the city. There, she was placed in an incubator and hooked up to oxygen. The doctor and nurse said that the lung infection had entered her blood stream and that she needed a blood transfusion. They ran some blood tests and then took her to intensive care and gave her a transfusion.

The next day, her condition improved and she left intensive care, but she remained hooked up to oxygen. She received antibiotics and oxygen for four days, and is still in the hospital. I don't know when she'll be discharged or what the long-lasting effects of this injury will be.

Ghusun Rabi' Fadel Nafa', married with one child, is a homemaker and a resident of Ni'lin. Her testimony was given to Iyad Hadad on 13 July 2008 at the government hospital in Ramallah.