Ambulance volunteers risk their lives in Ramallah | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 14.08.2015
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Middle East

Ambulance volunteers risk their lives in Ramallah

Following the death of a Palestinian baby, protests have engulfed the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mel Frykberg accompanied an ambulance as it treated and evacuated the wounded in Jelazon refugee camp near Ramallah.

With sirens blaring and lights flashing, the civil defence ambulance from Jelazon refugee camp negotiates its way between burning tyres and scores of masked Palestinian youths, hurling rocks and Molotov Cocktails at rows of Israeli soldiers and border police outside Beit El, an illegal settlement, adjacent to the refugee camp.

From behind the ambulance a hail of rocks and stones rain down on where the security forces are standing. From the front the ambulance faces a barrage of rubber-coated, metal bullets, tear gas canisters and live ammunition that are being fired at the youths.

"Our ambulance has been damaged by rocks thrown by Palestinians which have hit us accidentally but caused damage," volunteer and ambulance driver Kamal Washasha told DW. "On numerous other occasions both our ambulance and our volunteers have been hit with rubber bullets and gas canisters fired by Israeli soldiers, either accidentally or deliberately."

"We try to stay out the way of the clashes but it's not always possible," volunteer Muhammed Nesleh, a resident of Jelazon, told DW.

Relative safety

The ambulance manages to find relative safety parked in a side road from where the volunteers can observe the clashes and reach the wounded quickly.

From the ambulance we watch as teenagers at the front of the group of rioters play a cat-and-mouse game with the soldiers, inching forward and launching stone-filled slings.

people on street copyright: Mel Frykberg

A dangerous game of cat-and-mouse

Billowing clouds of black smoke from the burning tyres mingle with clouds of acrid teargas, exacerbating the sweltering heat wave currently sweeping the region.

Although the atmosphere is tense there is a sense of camaraderie amongst the volunteers who take selfies, swap jokes, send sms messages to friends and share water and chocolate.

Suddenly the atmosphere of humor and light relief changes dramatically as several Israeli military jeeps accelerate forward followed by dozens of Israeli soldiers as they charge the crowd.

Emergency run

The charge is accompanied by a volley of tear gas, rubber bullets and sniper fire. The inevitable happens as several young men are hit with sniper fire and rubber bullets and collapse. Their comrades rush to their aid screaming for help and carrying the wounded toward the ambulance.

The volunteers snap into action and the youths, bleeding from head and leg wounds respectively, are put into the back of the ambulances and given first aid.The ambulance screams into action, screeching past the soldiers and youths as it makes the 10-minute trip to Ramallah hospital at break-neck speed.

soldiers on street copyright: Mel Frykberg

Israel says some of its soldiers are under investigation

Washasha manages to call the emergency department of the hospital, informing them of the wounded cases, while simultaneously driving the ambulance as it careens along narrow, hairclip bends. Motorists ahead peel off the road and pull to the side, trying to get out the way.

On arrival at the hospital doctors and nurses are waiting at the entrance and the wounded are rushed into the emergency department.

Once the wounded have been stabilised the volunteers head back to the ambulance and wash down the blood-soaked stretcher and clean other equipment.

It's only a matter of minutes before the radio crackles to life again and warns that there are more injured at Jelazon.

The return trip is equally hair-raising before the entire process is repeated. Following only two days of rioting eight Palestinians from Jelazon were wounded. Dozens more across the West Bank were wounded and two killed.

A spokeswoman for the Israel Defence Force told DW that the Palestinians killed in July were involved in violent riots, including throwing Molotov cocktails at soldiers and assaulting them.

She added that some of the incidents were under investigation by the military police and that further incidents involving the Israeli police were also being looked into.

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