Israeli Video Portrays Medic Killed in Gaza as Tool of Hamas
Posted June 7, 2018 8:20 p.m. EDT
The Israeli military published a brief video Thursday aimed at showing that a Palestinian medic killed by Israeli forces last week was not the neutral health care worker she has been portrayed as.
The tightly edited video shows a woman identified as the medic, Rouzan al-Najjar, throwing what appears to be a tear-gas canister. The video does not appear to have been taken the day Najjar was killed, and the canister does not appear to be aimed at anyone.
In a second scene, according to the video, Najjar tells an interviewer, “I am here on the front line and I act as a human shield.”
Since she was killed at a protest at the Gaza-Israel border fence last Friday, Najjar, who was 20, has become a powerful symbol of the conflict there. Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, has portrayed her as a hero and an innocent victim of Israeli aggression.
Israel has been assailed by human rights groups for using excessive force against the protesters, most of whom were unarmed. Since the weekly protests began in March, according to Gaza health officials, 119 people have been killed by Israeli fire.
The U.N. Human Rights Council voted last Friday to censure Israel for disproportionate use of force. On Saturday, a group of U.N. agencies called the killing of Najjar, a “clearly identified” medic, “particularly reprehensible.”
The Israeli Army has said that it has used live ammunition only as a last resort in an effort to prevent the protesters, and any fighters blended in their ranks, from breaching the fence and attacking Israelis on the other side.
In its first substantive statement on Najjar’s death, the military said Tuesday that it had been unintentional and that the military was still investigating it.
The video Israel released Thursday did not try to make the case that Najjar’s actions provided a justification for her shooting. Rather the clip, published in English and Arabic, appeared to be part of the battle over her story’s narrative and an effort to chip away at Najjar’s image of fresh-faced innocence.
“This medic was incited by Hamas to give up her life for their goals,” the text on the English-language version of the video says. “Hamas uses paramedics as human shields.”
The protests are aimed at ending the 11-year blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, and pressing Palestinian claims to lands in what is now Israel.
Questioned at a policy forum in London Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended the army’s use of live fire, saying the military had tried using water cannons and tear gas but had been unable to stop the protesters from attacking the fence.
“Nobody intentionally went out to kill anyone,” Netanyahu said, accusing Hamas of trying to raise the body count for publicity purposes.
“I can tell you that Hamas, at a certain point, said ‘not enough people are being killed,'” he said.
Hamas officials have blamed Israel for the deaths of the protesters, but they have sought to exploit them to advance their cause.
Hamas officials have also released a video to portray their version of Najjar’s story. That video, released Saturday, shows Najjar and other medics walking toward the Israeli fence in white coats and with their hands raised. A Gaza health official said the video was taken shortly before Najjar was shot.
A similar public relations battle erupted after the death of an 8-month-old girl, Layla Ghandour, who died after having been exposed to tear gas at the Gaza protest last month. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said she had been killed by the tear gas.
The Israeli authorities and others pushed back, saying the child’s pre-existing congenital heart disease may have contributed to her death. The Gaza authorities eventually capitulated, removing the child’s name from a list of people killed by Israeli troops.
The Israeli video released Thursday appears to be an excerpt from a longer video produced by Al Mayadeen News, an Arabic satellite channel based in Beirut, Lebanon.
In the longer video, the comment that the military translated as “I act as a human shield” was part of a sentence in which Najjar said, “I’m acting as a human rescue shield to protect the injured inside the armistice line.”
The Mayadeen interview suggests that Najjar may have been a more complex person than either side is making her out to be. While she said she saw her role as a health care worker, she also saw herself as part of the protest.
“With all my strength, will and persistence, no matter what you do to me, what dangers I’m subjected to, bullets, explosives or tear gas, I will continue on my course and journey,” she said. “I will save all the injured so that they can go back and defend their land, and take back our land.”