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American Jewish Student Loses Eye During West Bank Protest of Israel

Overshadowed by the events of the Gaza-bound flotilla, the May 31 incident at Kalandia crossing near Ramallah went almost unnoticed. Little was reported on the injury of Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old American Jewish student who lost her left eye after being hit by a tear gas canister shot by Israeli soldiers during a pro-Palestinian protest.

Henochowicz, an art student at Cooper Union in New York, was on an exchange program at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. She grew up in the Washington suburb of Potomac, Md.; her father was born in Israel, and she holds an Israeli passport by birth.

During this recent stay in Israel, she frequently joined pro-Palestinian demonstrations, whether to protest the security barrier or the alleged confiscation of Palestinian homes. Her impressions, delicately drawn and posted on her website, show Henochowicz’s journey through the flashpoints of Israeli-Palestinian friction in the West Bank. One, called the Walaja Cake, was drawn after she participated in a demonstration in the small village of Wallaje whose land is a source of dispute. The caption accompanying the drawing lists the ingredients for the “Walaja Cake”: “One layer of determined activist over a layer of obediently angry army men, and a layer of camera people (to give it that worldly flavor) with a bulldozer on-top!”

The events that led to the May 31 injury are in dispute. Pro-Palestinian activists started off protesting the Gaza flotilla incident when, at the Kalandia checkpoint, one of the main entry routes to Ramallah, the protesters encountered Israeli border patrol soldiers who tried to break up the demonstration, which lacked a permit. A border patrol spokesman said in a statement that soldiers shot tear gas canisters according to the approved protocol for this ammunition. These rules require tear gas to be shot at a 45-degree angle and from a safe distance, so as not to hit protesters directly.

The border patrol conducted an internal investigation of the case and concluded that all actions taken by the soldiers were appropriate. The Israel Defense Forces did not provide an explanation for Henochowicz’s injury, but in the past have explained that similar injuries were unfortunate accidents, since there is no way to completely control the trajectory of tear gas or rubber bullets.

But activists standing next to Henochowicz offered a different account. Soren Johanssen from Sweden said, in a statement made public by the International Solidarity Movement, that border patrol soldiers shot directly at the protesters. “They fired many canisters at us in rapid succession,” said Johanssen who, according to ISM, stood next to Henochowicz. “One landed on either side of Emily, then the third one hit her in the face,” he said.

Henochowicz was rushed to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem after losing her left eye, breaking her jaw and suffering multiple wounds to her face, according to her family members and a statement issued by Cooper Union.

“It is becoming increasingly common for soldiers and policemen to use riot control devices as weapons,” said Michael Sfard, a Tel Aviv attorney who is representing Henochowitz. Since April 2009, this is the third time Sfard has represented protesters hurt by the firing of tear gas.

The first protester was a Palestinian, Bassam Abu Rahma, who was killed by a direct hit in Bilin. The other was Tristan Anderson, an American citizen who returned to the United States early this month after spending more than a year in an Israeli hospital, where he was treated for critical wounds he suffered from a tear gas canister. Both of these cases are still under investigation.

Sfard has filed a petition with the Israeli police to open a criminal investigation into the shooting incident that led to Henochowicz’s injury.

Henochowicz is now back in the United States and is undergoing further surgical treatment, although neither her family nor her lawyer would provide any details.

Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected]

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