By LOUIS RENE BERES and DR. MICHAEL L MESSING
Read reports on the recent suicide-bombing of a fast-food restaurant in Tel Aviv – an attack the Palestinian government argues was justified – and you will learn that nine Israelis were killed and dozens were “wounded.”
But what, exactly, does it mean to be in the second category? A news media that seek to reduce every tragedy to numbers rarely dare to answer the question. But these wounds are just as real and lasting as death.
X-rays of suicide bombing “survivors” routinely show hundreds of metallic fragments, ranging in size from millimeters to whole nails, grotesquely embedded in the victims’ bodies – literally from head to foot. Nails, screws, nuts and ball bearings are packed by the suicide bombers into their explosive vests to maximize their lethal effects and to inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on the penetrated persons. Soaked in rat poison, these transformed objects are propelled with the force of bullets, entering skin, flesh and bone with a furious indifference to civilized human behavior.
The nails fly headfirst, presenting themselves in a strangely surreal yet orderly arrangement within the victims’ bodies. Many are embedded “only” to the depth of their entrance sites. Others burrow their way in more deeply, and lodge under the skin where the examining physician can actually touch and feel their presence. Others must be removed after hours of meticulous exploration. Still others enter the body far deeper, perforating and lacerating vital organs at random. CAT scans of these victims’ heads show blood, air, metal and bone fragments displacing normal brain tissue.
The “lucky” patient who survives the initial explosion may often require extensive surgery to repair damaged organs. Others may sustain fractures, burns, amputations, vascular injuries, paralysis, blindness or brain damage. A collapsed lung or perforated colon – what would ordinarily be considered a major injury – is now taken as a blessing for these victims.
Although some recover physically and return to a “normal” life, many more require a lifetime of ongoing rehabilitation. All suffer serious psychological effects that need to be treated. In fact, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety affect not only the victims of the attack, but all of Israeli society. Many reports have indicated a dramatic rise in the use of prescription antidepressants and sedatives. At best, it will be years before the “merely wounded” victims of terror bombings are able to return to normal society.
It will be years before these violated men, women, children and infants are again able to move their own bodies beyond altogether immeasurable boundaries of torment and despair.
Though they are not counted as fatalities in the official tabulations of this attack, one can hardly call what they are about to endure a tolerable life.
Beres, a professor of political science, is the author of many books on terrorism and international law. Messing, a radiologist, is an expert on the medical effects of terrorism.