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The Fence: Scenes from a Palestinian tragedy

Palestinian protesters are injured as a result of Israeli occupation forces using live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse unarmed demonstrators in the Gaza Strip on 12 January 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Mointor]
Palestinian protesters are injured as a result of Israeli occupation forces using live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse unarmed demonstrators in the Gaza Strip on 12 January 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Mointor]

Prologue

For decades, Israeli leaders and media have insisted that Palestinians left their homes in the Nakba of 1948, leaving everything behind to become refugees of their own free will. Millions spent seven decades scattered in neighbouring countries and elsewhere, were denied the right to return to their homes in the land of their forefathers which had been taken over by foreigners – mainly European Jews – and deprived of basic human needs by hosting countries.

Zionist paramilitary groups such as the Irgun, the Lehi, the Haganah and the Palmach used to shoot dead all those Palestinians who dared to sneak back to their villages and towns, under the pretext of combating infiltrators. Even those who entered simply to collect some of their belongings to use in the refugee camps or meet their relatives were also killed. Israeli historian Benny Morris, in his book “Israel’s Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation and the Countdown to the Suez War,” tells us that 90 per cent or more of those so-called infiltrations were for economic and social reasons. The great majority of those “infiltrators” who were killed in the period 1949-1956 – estimated to number between 2,700 and 5,000 – were unarmed.

An elderly Palestinian and a child during the Nakba [Hanini/Wikipedia]

An elderly Palestinian and a child can be seen during the Nakba [Hanini/Wikipedia]

Palestinian attempts to pressurise the international community to compel Israel to allow Palestinians to return to their homes have failed. All United Nations resolutions to this effect remain on paper due to US support for Israel, while decades pass by. In 2012, Palestinian refugees in neighbouring countries – along with activists from all over the world – started the Global March to Jerusalem, which was met with bullets and in which many people lost their lives. Due to the Arab Spring this march lost momentum, but the problem remained.

In March 2018, another attempt was born – the Great March of Return. This was supposed to commence in all neighbouring countries, including the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip. Only in the Gaza Strip did the March retain its vigour. People from all walks of life and from all political backgrounds and affiliations decided not to die of hunger or shortage of medicine, nor did they want to “explode” in the face of Hamas, as Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel planned. Instead, they decided to die in dignity or simply go back to their lawful homes in the lands occupied by Israel.

READ: 45th Friday of the Great March of Return in Gaza

Scene 1: “We (women) have more strength than any man”

While attending to injured participants in the Great March of Return Razan Al-Najjar, a 21-year-old unarmed volunteer paramedic, was shot by an Israeli sniper on 1 June 2018. Razan’s white coat was stained with blood, this time unlike any time before. She was frequently photographed with the blood of Palestinian demonstrators on her white coat, but this time it was her own blood. She had a strong character and felt strongly about the tragedy of her people. She was injured twice before in the demonstrations. Her father lost his shop in an Israeli airstrike during the 2014 war, which left more than 2000 Palestinians dead and many structures destroyed. Why did the Israeli sniper decide to kill Razan?

The paramedic Razan al-Najjar, who was killed by an Israeli sniper at the Gaza border on 1 June, 2018 [Twitter]

Scene 2: “My name is Yaser and I have never travelled in my life”

While Yaser Murtaja was covering the second day of the Great March of Return, the 30-year-old photographer and cameraman was shot dead, despite wearing a blue journalist-style flak jacket marked with the word “press”. He was, as one report described him, “a man with an infectious smile [who] dedicated his life to telling [the] stories of Gaza residents.” Yaser always hoped to leave Gaza – which has been under Israeli embargo for the last 13 years – a wish which he could not fulfil. He loved children, cats and his work. Yaser was a husband and father to one child. Yaser loved life, his camera and, most importantly, his homeland.

READ: 19 Palestinian journalists are still imprisoned by Israel

Israeli soldiers have also killed Palestinian Photojournalist Yaser Murtaja in the Gaza Strip.

Scene 3: Returning to Hirbiya

A 44-year-old Palestinian woman, Amal Mostafa Al-Taramsi, was shot in the head by live fire by Israeli occupation forces during Great March of Return protests, becoming the first Palestinian fatality in 2019. According to local sources, she was 250 metres away from the boundary fence when an Israeli sniper ended her life. She has always dreamt of returning to her village in the land of her ancestors, Hirbiya.

Scene 4: Struck in the face

Twenty-three-year-old Haitham Abu Sabla was struck in the face by a gas canister fired by Israeli occupation forces during the Great March of Return. The canister pierced his cheek, got stuck there and the smoke poured from his mouth, in a scene that befits a horror film. Haitham spent three days on life support. Dr Hussam Al-Majayda, the doctor who operated on him, said: “It’s the first time we have dealt with such a thing, it took 45 minutes to remove the canister.” Fortunately, although Haitham’s jaw and face suffered multiple fractures and his teeth and nose were damaged, he survived.

Epilogue

Every Friday, thousands of Palestinians gather near the Israeli fence – intended to separate the Gaza Strip from the rest of Palestine – and conduct civil protests. As pointed out by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Israeli army has been targeting the protestors, killing about 250 people, injuring about 26,000 and causing about 100 to lose their limbs. In none of these cases did protestors represent an immediate and imminent danger to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Among these, 461 medical personnel were targeted by Israeli soldiers, 42 were injured and three were killed.

-The Tragedy Goes on-

READ: UN: 254 Palestinians killed, 23,000 injured in Gaza protests

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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