Gaza’s medics have fine-tuned tactics on how to work in the line of fire without being shot by Israeli snipers, reports The Guardian.
They wear white jackets with reflective, high-visibility stripes. Teams move slowly and deliberately towards casualties with their hands raised above their heads, past piles of burning tyres and plumes of white tear gas smoke.
As they approach the metal fence, they come within speaking distance of troops on the other side. They shout out in unison: “Don’t shoot. There are wounded.”
They believe there is no way that anyone might misidentify them in Gaza’s open fields, but medical workers across the coastal strip – which Israel occupied for 38 years until 2005 and over which it enforces a strict land and naval blockade – are coming to the same terrifying conclusion. The strategy is not working.
Razan al-Najjar, a volunteer health worker, took all the precautions, her colleagues say, but she was still killed when she was struck in the chest by a bullet last Friday.
The 21-year-old was the second medic to be killed in a 10-week Palestinian demonstration movement, and Gaza’s ministry of health says 25 others have been hit with live fire.
Faris al-Qidra, who was on shift with Najjar when she died, said she and four others had gone to rescue a man hit in the face with a teargas canister 20 metres from the perimeter.
“He was crying out ‘help me,’” the 31-year-old paramedic said, adding that Najjar was always ready to go forward, even when soldiers fired warning shots. “The soldiers usually scream for us to go back,” he said.
That day, he heard three shots. A photograph taken shortly afterwards shows men carryinNajjar’s body, her lifeless hands in surgical gloves.
Najjar had become an icon in Gaza before her death, with dozens of images published online of the woman who wore colourful headscarves and a resolute expression on her face.
She was often photographed with her white coat spattered with the blood of her patients, and one image shows her anxiously kneeling over a young man, feverishly bandaging his bleeding head.
“I’m here at the frontline as a human shield and rescuer for the injured,” she told one reporter in an interview. She complained to another that her society often judged women. “But society has to accept us. If they don’t want to accept us by choice, they will be forced to. Because we have more strength than any man.”
Her teenage years were scarred by conflict. She was still a child when the 2008 war broke out, 16 during the next round of hostilities and 17 in the seven-week 2014 conflict when her neighbourhood of Khuza’a suffered some of the worst devastations in Gaza.
“Razan did not like to see suffering,” said her mother, Sabrine, sitting among grieving relatives in her living room, where solar-powered lights hung from wires on the ceiling. “We have experienced too many wars. She wanted to be able to help.”
Their district is so close to the frontier that Najjar would have been able to see Israel soldiers stationed a few hundred metres from her home. Four-metre concrete walls have been erected in the road to shield residents from incoming fire.
Her father is an unemployed motorbike mechanic. He used to work at a scrap metal business in Israel when more Palestinian workers were allowed to cross. The family of eight lived in an apartment owned by relatives.
With university unaffordable, Najjar found free opportunities where she could, including a calligraphy class and a nursing course. “I was always pushing her. I was just like her, keen to learn. I wanted to give her space and freedom,” said Sabrine.
After news broke of her death, another volunteer, Izzat Shatat, a 23-year-old ambulance worker, said he and Najjar had planned to announce their engagement after Ramadan.
Israel accuses Hamas, which rules Gaza and backs the rallies, of using demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks. Kites rigged with flaming cans of petrol have been flown into Israel to torch agricultural fields, and explosives have damaged the fence.
A preliminary Israeli investigation found “no shots were deliberately or directly aimed toward” Najjar.
Israeli military and government officials have also sought to discredit Najjar, accusing her of helping “terrorists”. A spokesman for the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, shared a video on Thursday with accompanying textasking: “Was Razan al-Najjar just a medic?”
Sabrine believes her daughter was targeted. She held up Razan’s jacket, which was once white but it now brownish with dried blood. “Palestinian Medical Relief Society” is written on the back and a small bullet hole is visible.
“This was the weapon she had,” said Sabrine. “This was her terrorist badge,” she said, showing her daughter’s medical ID. “These were her explosives,” she added, pulling out bandages Razan kept in her pockets.
“She was close enough to talk to the soldiers. Does she look like a terrorist?”
Israeli forces have killed 120 Palestinians during the recent violence, Gazan health officials say. More than 3,600 have been shot with live ammunition, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The vast majority of casualties have been unarmed, with journalists and teenagers among the dead.