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Abortions in Palestine during the First Intifada

Contributed by Miluse Tumova on 14.08.2007:

During the First Intifada when the Israeli army was permanently present in the West Bank, throwing teargas was a daily routine.

Teargas canisters are very dangerous for pregnant women. Inhaling of the gas can cause an abortion. There are plenty of women in Palestine who lost their unborn babies after breathing teargas. Many of them even several times.

I interviewed three affected women, all of them from Bethlehem.

1. J. lost her baby in 1987, at the beginning of the First Intifada. She tells: At the time there was a lot of throwing tear gas everywhere. The children threw stones at Israeli cars and soldiers and they responded by shooting teargas canisters. The canister was called „matat“ and was made from iron covered with rubber; it can even kill a person. Many people died because of the gas, above all children and old people. The Israeli soldiers protected themselves with special masks. Palestinians had only stones and slings, no real guns at that time.

The main square of Bethlehem, Manger Square, was shot with tear gas on a daily basis, even at midnight. I estimate that about 90% of pregnant women lost a baby during that time. You had no chance to escape the gas. I had already two children and was pregnant the third time. I wanted to visit my father´s house which is near Manger Square. It was impossible to avoid penetration of the gas into the houses around the main square. I sniffed up a little of it already in my father´s house. I put an onion under my nose, it helped well. All the small boys who were throwing stones had onions in their pockets.

The next day I wanted to visit my father´s house again and I went with my husband by car. We wanted to park but one bomb hit the windscreen of our car. The screen was broken and we had to get out. I felt something wrong in my belly, there was no movement. The next day I went to the doctor and he told me to wait a week, but my child was already dead inside me. I was in the third month of my pregnancy. The doctor had to invoke an artificial abortion. I had a lot of pain and blood. I felt psychologically horrible, very depressed, I didn´t want to live at that moment. My heart was under much pressure. My husband and all the family helped me a great deal to overcome my sadness. But I couldn´t become pregnant for the next nine years. I started to lose hope that I would have another baby but I kept a strong desire. The doctors told me it would take a miracle so I begged God to give me a baby. The miracle happened at the feast of St. Francis. I had a dream that St. Francis sent me a white pigeon. The pigeon entered my first son´s window and I took the pigeon into my hands and wanted to put it into a cage but the pigeon changed into a baby-boy. In the morning I said to my husband, I feel that I am pregnant and he asked how can you know that? And I told him about the dream. We decided to name our son Francis.

Mila: Did you hate the Israelis?

J.: No, I didn´t. What should I? I couldn´t go to kill them. I was just praying for peace and for the end of the Intifada. We suffered a lot, you cannot imagine. Even suicide attackers had their reasons, their parents, children, brothers were killed … but as for me, I cannot kill anybody, I even cannot hate them even though they killed my baby. We also used to have Jewish friends and we visited each other. The problem is not in the people, everybody likes to live in peace, the children deserve to live in normal and nice conditions and to have a beautiful life. Everybody hopes for a happy life. The problem is on the political level, we as normal people can do nothing.

2. S. lost her unborn baby three times because of the Israeli occupation. She tells her story:

The first abortion happened in the seventh month of my pregnancy. It was on Manger Square in 1987. I went by car when some children started to throw stones and the Israelis were throwing teargas. One canister came through the window into the car. I couldn´t breathe and felt that something in my belly was going wrong. I felt very bad and was taken to hospital. The abortion came in two hours. My baby boy immediately died. The autopsy proved that the child would have been absolutely healthy under normal circumstances. There wery many women in the hospitel who suffered abortion because of gas inhalation.

The second abortion was related to an event in our house. Israeli soldiers entered our house by mistake; they were searching for the son of my husband´s brother who lived in the neighbourhood. I was very afraid of my small son and had an abortion because of the fear and the stress.

The third time I lost my baby was also in our house. The Israelis came and were looking for guns but we had no one. I wasn´t home when they entered, only my small daughter. When I learned that Israelis were in our house I was terribly afraid of my daughter and ran home. My daughter was crying and one soldier shouted at the child to be silent. The second soldier had a better attitude and tried to calm the little girl. In the children´s room were toys which looked like guns. The first soldier shouted „There´s a gun!“ so I took the toy into my hands and wanted to step on it so as to show that it was plastic. But the soldier stopped me and hit me with his elbow on my belly. I felt pain and I was admitted to hospital where I had an abortion while I was in the second month of pregnancy.

3. A´s baby didn´t die but was born almost one month too early and was born ill because of the gas.

She tells: I was about to visit my mother and somebody started throwing stones in front of the house. My mother told me that it was better to go to the bathroom as nobody knew what could happen. Unfortunately a bomb fell near the window of the bathroom and I inhaled some gas. I felt pins and needles in all my body. I was very tired, my muscles were weak, I even couldn´t take a cup of tea. After a few days a strong pain started in my back and a doctor told me that I had to stay in bed. I couldn´t bear to lie down and went to the clinic where I delivered my daughter. She was put into the incubator and I didn´t know if she would stay alive. The milk had to be given to her through a machine. I was crying all day and night until I could hold my daughter for the first time. I had also vaginal and nose bleeding for two days; maybe it was psychological. The gas had the effect of poison in the blood. Glucose was given to me through my nose and my stomach had to be cleaned.

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