AMERICAN Student Injury at Protest Leads to Battle in Israel

By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: July 27, 2010

JERUSALEM — A macabre legal wrangle is under way over who should pay the hospital bill for an American art student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli border police officer at a Palestinian-led protest in the West Bank.

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Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Emily Henochowicz at her home in Potomac, Md., on July 1. Ms. Henochowicz, a 21-year-old art student, lost her eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli police officer at a protest in the West Bank on May 31.

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Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

A battle has ensued over who will pay Ms. Henochowicz’s medical bills, which total about $10,000.

The student, Emily Henochowicz, 21, was injured on May 31 after she joined Palestinian and foreign activists protesting that morning’s deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a Turkish boat trying to breach the blockade of Gaza. Israeli security forces fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration after a few Palestinian youths threw rocks.

Witnesses at the protest, by the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, said that a border police officer had fired the tear-gas directly at the demonstrators, rather than into the air in line with regulations. The Israeli police have begun a criminal investigation.

But the lawyer representing Ms. Henochowicz, Michael Sfard, recently received a letter from the Israeli Ministry of Defense rejecting any demand for compensation or payment of hospital costs. The reason, the ministry stated, was that the protest was violent and that the tear-gas canister was not fired directly but had ricocheted off a concrete barricade.

Ms. Henochowicz, who is Jewish and is a student at the Cooper Union in New York, arrived in Israel in February for what was supposed to be a six-month student exchange. Her father was born in Israel to Holocaust survivors whom he described as “ardent Zionists.”

Speaking by telephone from her home in Potomac, Md., this week, Ms. Henochowicz said it was “upsetting, when someone gets an injury, not only to have to deal with the physical consequences of something you did not do to yourself, but the economic consequences as well.”

Ms. Henochowicz, who was treated at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, had her left eye removed and suffered fractures that required the insertion of titanium plates. She returned to the United States in early June, where she is continuing to visit doctors and specialists.

But more than the cost of the treatment in Israel, which amounted to about $10,000, there are clearly legal principles and interests at stake.

The student’s father, Dr. Stuart Henochowicz, said by telephone that he had not yet explored the question of whether his daughter’s insurance would cover the bill, because he was under the impression that it would be paid by the Ministry of Defense.

On Tuesday, the ministry stated that according to preliminary checks, the border police dealt lawfully with the “violent protest at Qalandiya,” and that the firing of tear gas was justified. While expressing sorrow over Ms. Henochowicz’s injury, the ministry added that it did not cover hospitalization expenses in circumstances such as these.

The ministry said it had acted similarly in the case of Tristan Anderson, an American severely wounded by a tear-gas projectile in 2009. The ministry said that Mr. Anderson had filed a suit in the Tel Aviv District Court, where the issue of hospital expenses would be settled.

Mr. Sfard, the lawyer, said that from the start he told Dr. Henochowicz, who flew to Israel from the United States to be at his daughter’s bedside, “not to touch his wallet or to sign any check.”

In a letter to the ministry, Mr. Sfard wrote, “It is insolent and preposterous to expect someone who was shot by the security forces, whether unintentionally, negligently or with criminal intention, to fund her own medical treatment.”

Yuval Weiss, the director of the medical center in Ein Kerem, said the hospital was “not a party to the argument.”

“It makes no difference to us who pays, as long as somebody does,” he said. “We cannot work for free.”

After her arrival in Israel, Ms. Henochowicz, who came to Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, got involved with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement after meeting activists at a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where settlers have won court cases and evicted several Palestinian families from their homes.

From Sheikh Jarrah, Ms. Henochowicz frequented the regular Palestinian protest spots in the West Bank like Bilin, Nilin and Nabi Saleh. The late May protest was her first at Qalandiya. “I did not know what it would be like,” she said.

The demonstration came hours after Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla. Violent clashes broke out on the Turkish boat and nine activists — eight Turks and an American-Turkish youth — were killed.

Ms. Henochowicz said she was not standing near the stone throwers. She was holding a Turkish and an Austrian flag when she was struck.

Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli journalist from the newspaper Haaretz, was watching the demonstration. “The police fired a tear-gas grenade, and then another and another,” he wrote in June “I remember that what surprised me was the volley of grenade fire directly aimed directly at the demonstrators, not at the sky. After the fourth grenade, if I am not mistaken, a shout was heard about 100 meters away.”

Unusual for a foreign activist in a conflict where battle lines are often starkly drawn, Ms. Henochowicz says she feels a certain affinity with both sides. She said she had wanted to help the Palestinians, but because of her background, she said she also felt “very attached” to Israel “in lots of ways.”

She added, “If I did not really care about what was happening in the country, I would have hung out on the beach all day.”

Dr. Henochowicz said he found the whole episode “hurtful,” and was upset that no Israeli officials made any contact with him or his daughter during the five days they were at the hospital.

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael B. Oren, has since visited the family’s home in Maryland, Dr. Henochowicz said.

If it was an accident, “Why didn’t they come to the hospital and talk to me?” he asked.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 28, 2010, on page A4 of the New York edition.

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