The nightmare started when 24-year-old Ahlam, from the village of Ya’bud in the Israeli-occupied territories, joined a march to commemorate the martyrdom of a fellow villager.
“The situation was so tense that the Israeli army could not enter the village,” she recalled from her hospital bed in Amman. “A helicopter started throwing tear gas onto the 8,000 or so peaceful demonstrators.”
One of the canisters landed close to Ahlam. She attempted to kick it away, but within a minute she lost consciousness from tear gas inhalation.
Exposure to the gas immediately caused a burning feeling in her face, her eyes were constantly tearful and her stomach ached, she recalls. Ahlam suffered from that condition for a whole month. Then more serious symptoms started appearing. Her arm muscles became stiff and ached. Red patches appeared on her skin, turning to dark brown and then black. After that, blisters developed all over those patches, which she says are painful and itchy.
Fourteen months after the incident, Ahlam was still suffering from the painful symptoms which affect her in various places on her upper body. Additional patches have appeared since she was admitted to Amman’s Palestine Hospital where her doctors say they cannot help but link her symptoms with the February 1988 event.
A biopsy done by a local laboratory indicated Ahlam suffers from infections under the skin as deep as the blood vessels and muscles. Ulceration has developed on her skin due to the decreased blood supply in the affected areas.
“It is definitely not a skin disease,” said Dr. Ziad Kayyali, the reconstructive surgery specialist who is supervising Ahlam. “There is a 90 percent likelihood that chemical substances caused this phenomenon.” Doctors have told her she is likely to develop future complications in any organ related to the central nervous system.
A skin specialist, Dr. Umeish Umeish, said medical reports have indicated that inhaled gas can be absorbed, systematically causing damage to the skin and muscles of the body.
Ahlam is one of the few victims of Israeli repression fortunate enough to have gotten treatment outside. She is convinced the authorities wouldn’t have allowed her to leave the West Bank had they known she was to be examined in Amman and later to fly to France to receive advanced treatment.
Ahlam says she does not mind the pain and discomfort because she believes that it is the price for liberation. “If you keep blowing it, a balloon is bound to burst. This is exactly what happened to a people who were subjected to daily beatings, humiliation and degradation,” she asserted. “The Israeli occupation forces may, in fact, be doing us a favor. Every time they hit us, they make us stronger.”