Ali requires further surgery. He is still hoping to move his legs again. He is still hoping to defy the treacherous bullet fired by a heartless sniper, and a world that answers Israel’s crimes with shocking silence.
I was sitting behind my desk in my family’s supermarket in Khan Younis on 14 May when my cousin Ali approached. There was going to be another gathering in al-Faraheen for that day’s Great March of Return protest, he said. Would I join him?
“No, I prefer the one in Khuzaa where we usually go,” I said.
Ali insisted to go to al-Faraheen and decided he would do so with his friend Saed. He stayed with me until I closed the shop and we went our separate ways. I called my friend Ahmad to go to Khuzaa.
At the protest, we found the usual: tear gas canisters falling thickly, leaving us barely able to breathe or talk; ambulances and paramedics fanning out everywhere; and the sound of live bullets whizzing past. The sound of a bullet elicits contradictory feelings. All of us know that it will hit someone. But if we hear it, we are safe, just like when we hear shelling it means it has exploded but not on us.
“In our society women are often judged. But society has to accept us. If they don’t want to accept us by choice, they will be forced to accept us because we have more strength than any man. The strength that I showed the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else.”
— Razan al-Najjar, Palestinian paramedic, killed on Jun 1, 2018
She had become a fixture at the weekly protests along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel, a young woman in a white paramedic’s uniform rushing into harm’s way to help treat the wounded.
As a volunteer emergency medical worker, she said she wanted to prove that women had a role to play in the conservative Palestinian society of Gaza.
“Being a medic is not only a job for a man,” Razan al-Najjar, 20, said in an interview at a Gaza protest camp last month. “It’s for women, too.”
An hour before dusk on Friday, the 10th week of the Palestinian protest campaign, she ran forward to aid a demonstrator for the last time.
Israeli soldiers fired two or three bullets from across the fence, according to a witness, hitting Ms. Najjar in the upper body. She was pronounced dead soon after.
The main obstacle that faces anyone who wants to report on what is happening at Gaza protests from the Israeli side of the border is that one can hear the gunfire, see the smoke, report on the army’s conduct, and estimate the number of protesters — and yet, you cannot get the full story. A journalist from East Jerusalem who often covers the goings on at the border summed it up perfectly: “We can hear the bullets, but we can’t see the blood.” Since Israel placed Gaza under siege 11 years ago, Israeli journalists have been forbidden from entering the Strip, both in times of conflict and calm. This was never Hamas’ decision; it was Israel’s.
“Cutting or attacking the fence is an offense. It has to be countered, but countered with reasonable force. There is no meter that I know of that would put the safety of the border fence at the same importance of the life of a 14-year-old.”
— Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer
Fourteen-year-old Wisal Sheikh Khalil had wire cutters out and was trying to break through Gaza’s boundary fence into Israel when she was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on Monday, according to her younger brother, who was with her at the time.
She was one of at least 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops during protests this week along the fence, according to local health officials.
Israel’s sharpshooters, looking down from their nests on mounds of earth on the other side of the fence, have been permitted to use lethal force against those “endangering” the barrier, Israeli military officials say. These officials also say that Israeli soldiers have been allowed to use live ammunition to shoot “instigators” among “rioters” on the de facto border.
In both cases, the orders are to aim for the legs, they say, though Khalil was shot in the head.
Trump has empowered what’s worst in Israel, and as long as he is president, it may be that Israel can kill Palestinians, demolish their homes and appropriate their land with impunity. But some day, Trump will be gone.
The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot about America’s relationship to Israel right now. It has never been closer, but within that closeness there are seeds of potential estrangement.
On Monday, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other leading lights of the Trumpist right gathered in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a gesture widely seen as a slap in the face to Palestinians who envision East Jerusalem as their future capital.
The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don’t convert will burn forever.
Religions like “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell,” Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor, once said. He was chosen to give the opening prayer at the embassy ceremony. John Hagee, one of America’s most prominent end-times preachers, once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland. He gave the closing benediction.
This mass mobilization around the core principles of Palestinian liberation — arising from civil society independently of discredited political leaderships — holds immense power to disrupt the status quo. Whether this movement, from East Jerusalem to Gaza, Israel to the West Bank, eventually bends toward justice depends on whether the international community will tolerate Israel’s capacity to deny an entire people their basic rights and rob them of a future because they are not Jewish. The past record is not encouraging, but something new has started.
“The battle against infiltration in the border areas at all times of day and night will be carried out mainly by opening fire, without giving warning, on any individual or group that cannot be identified from afar by our troops as Israeli citizens and who are, at the moment they are spotted, [infiltrating] into Israeli territory.”
This was the order issued in 1953 by Israel’s Fifth Giv’ati Brigade in response to the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who sought to return to homes and lands from which they had been expelled in 1948. For years after the war, the recently displaced braved mines and bullets from border kibbutzim and risked harsh reprisals from Israel’s army to reclaim their property. The reprisals included raids on refugee camps and villages that often killed civilians, as the Israeli historian Benny Morris and others have laid out. Still, refugees persisted in their attempts to return, and Israel persisted in viewing these attempts as “infiltration.”
Over the past six weeks, Israeli soldiers have killed some forty Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them unarmed civilians, and injured more than five thousand protesters. As the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem Monday, the violence escalated alarmingly. Israeli forces shot dead at least another fifty Palestinians and injured more than 2,400, making it by far the bloodiest day yet in the current round of protests in Gaza.
Do we really imagine this so-called “March of Return” to be an existential threat to the strongest army in the Middle East? Demonstrators might be wild with rage and even psyched up by Hamas slogans, but they’re not armed and equipped to take on Israel.
The loss of life in Gaza at the ends of Israeli army snipers is not only gruesome, it’s reprehensible — because lethal force is not the only way to confront protesters.
We in America know that from our own history.
We’ve been thinking a lot about civil rights in America, recently. Last month marked 50 years since the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
In the year-and-a-half since Donald Trump was elected, we’ve seen a resurgence of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic incidents, and signs of white supremacist groups moving out of the shadows and into town squares not en masse, but enough to make us realize that America remains rife with racism.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
1. A predictable disaster in Gaza: Israel did not lift a finger to prevent lethal clashes
The plumes of smoke rising in the distance from Gaza were already visible on the drive from the Negev town of Netivot Monday morning. Over the next several hours, the smoke from burning tires grew thicker at dozens of protest sites along the entire Strip, from the area across from Moshav Netiv Ha’asara in the north to the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in the south. Read Amos Harel’s full analysis here →
2. Messianic US–Israel axis showcased at Jerusalem embassy ceremony is gut-punch for most American Jews
The stark contrast that played out on split screens throughout the world Monday, between the Israeli celebration in Jerusalem and the Palestinian casualties in Gaza, was worthy of Charles Dickens’ immortal opening to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Read Chemi Shalev’s full analysis here →
I finally learned the wounded woman’s name — Alaa Asawafiri — when I found her mother in a hospital corridor, her cheeks smeared with tears, clutching her daughter’s silver sneakers in a plastic bag.
A nervous frisson ran through the crowd as it pushed toward the fence between Gaza and Israel on Sunday evening, halting 75 feet from the wire.
I had traveled to Gaza from Cairo ahead of what are expected to be enormous demonstrations at the border fence this week. I wanted to first see the site of the protests on what I thought would be an uneventful evening.
“The mere fact of approaching a fence is not a lethal, life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot. It seems that anyone is liable to be shot dead. . . . It is not acceptable to say that ‘this is Hamas and therefore this is OK.’”
— Rupert Colville, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman
International condemnation of Israel’s killing of 59 Palestinian protesters in Gaza escalated as thousands rallied in the coastal enclave to bury the dead from the latest round of violence.
The killings took place on Monday during demonstrations at the Gaza border fence, which coincided with a high-profile ceremony to mark the controversial transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the Trump administration that overturned decades of US foreign policy.
As senior UN rights officials condemned the killings as an “outrageous human rights violation” — adding that it appeared anyone approaching the Gaza border fence was liable to be killed by Israeli soldiers — Ireland summoned Israel’s ambassador to protest against the fatalities.