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The cost for Palestinians in protests and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border has been high. Israeli soldiers have accused them of violence and opened fire. Gaza officials say more than 200 people have died. Thousands more have been wounded. NPR's Daniel Estrin visited a workshop in Gaza City that's trying to help Palestinians who have lost their legs.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINES WHIRRING)
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Through the waiting room and behind a set of doors is a heap of plastic leg sockets on a shelf. Palestinian technicians in white lab coats scurry past into side rooms where they sand down leg molds, mix chemicals, cut and polish plastics with large machines and screw together rods. Tables and floors are speckled with white plaster. Saws and hammers hang from the walls.
MOHAMMED DWEMA: This is the workshop.
ESTRIN: Mohammed Dwema directs Gaza's Artificial Limbs and Polio Center. He says about 75 people in Gaza have had a leg amputated since protests began this spring. After months of bandaging, muscle exercises and physical therapy, the first amputees are ready for a prosthesis created right here from scratch.
DWEMA: They're melting this plastic to have the final shape of the leg.
ESTRIN: Now, it seems pretty busy here.
DWEMA: Sure - because now there's like rush hour because we have a problem with electricity here. There is no fuel every day for the generator. We are just opening the generator from 9 to 12.
ESTRIN: The machines run only three hours a day on a generator. Israel, Egypt and Palestinian leaders outside Gaza have all restricted the amount of fuel that reaches here. It's all part of a tactic to pressure the militant Islamist group Hamas to give up its control of Gaza. The electricity problem is just one of the many challenges of running this clinic. Another are the restrictions Israel imposes on the import of raw materials to make the prostheses. Israel fears militants could use them for weaponry. Dwema says he needs to create a paper trail for Israel.
DWEMA: When we hear they're coming, we make documentation - how many grams we receive, take photo with a number - dates - like a monitoring system.
ESTRIN: The workshop depends on the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide the raw materials.
JACQUES DE MAIO: The problem is that Gaza is totally dependent on aid.
ESTRIN: Jacques de Maio heads the Red Cross mission here. It coordinates with Israel to get restricted supplies, like silicone, into Gaza for the prosthetics center.
DE MAIO: The set of restrictions, of which silicone is only part of, is actually a straitjacket that is drown - that is actually strangling the ability of Gaza, well, to sustain itself.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Short step, short step.
ESTRIN: One floor above the workshop is where Palestinian technicians and a visiting American expert help young men try out a prosthetic leg for the first time. Twenty-year-old Omar Abu Hashem sits and waits for his turn. His left stump is folded over his right leg.
OMAR ABU HASHEM: (Speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: He says Israeli soldiers shot him in the leg as he tried to help evacuate a wounded man at the Israeli border this spring. Protests on the border have been going on for months now, calling on Israel to lift the blockade it's imposed on Gaza ever since Hamas took over a decade ago.
ABU HASHEM: (Speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: Abu Hasham claims he could have gone to Turkey where surgeons might have been able to save his leg. It's not easy for Gazans to travel. He believes Hamas gave one of its wounded men the slot that he was promised.
ABU HASHEM: (Through interpreter) I hold them responsible for everything.
ESTRIN: Another young man here says soldiers shot him in the leg after he helped set fire to an Israeli military post. Mohammed Dwema, the director here, says he doesn't ask patients if they were involved in violence. He's committed to treating everyone. But he says he can't afford the high-tech artificial legs that some of the young men are asking for.
DWEMA: The patients ask of us - I am a swimmer. I need to swim. I am runner. I am bicycle rider. I cannot provide with them for a prothesis that cost $20,000. If I had $20,000, I would buy fuel for my generator.
ESTRIN: He says his clinic can only provide the most basic prosthetic legs with limited range of motion. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Gaza City.
(SOUNDBITE OF CYMANDE'S "BROTHERS ON THE SLIDE")
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