Medic Who Saved Lives Loses Her Own in Gaza
Posted June 2, 2018 4:00 p.m. EDT
KHUZAA, Gaza Strip — 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 in May. “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 Najjar in the upper body. She was pronounced dead soon after.
Najjar was the 119th Palestinian killed since the protests began in March, according to Gaza health officials. Hers was the only fatality registered Friday.
The Israeli military said Saturday that the case would be examined.
The military said it “has repeatedly warned civilians against approaching the fence and taking part in violent incidents and terrorist attacks and will continue to act professionally and determinedly to protect Israeli civilians and Israeli security infrastructure.”
The weeks of protests, called the Great Return March, have largely been orchestrated by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. They aim to draw attention to the 11-year blockade by Israel and Egypt of the coastal territory and to press refugee claims to lands lost when Israel was established in 1948.
Most of those killed during the protests have been shot by Israeli snipers, half in a single day, May 14, the peak of the campaign. Human rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force against the mostly unarmed protesters.
On Friday, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for using “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force” against Palestinians failed when it was vetoed by the United States.
On Saturday, U.N. agencies and officials expressed their outrage in a statement that described the killing of “a clearly identified medical staffer by security forces during a demonstration as particularly reprehensible.”
The conflict exploded into a day of cross-border fighting Tuesday, when Islamic militants in Gaza fired scores of mortar shells and short-range rockets into southern Israel. Israeli jets bombed at least 65 military sites across Gaza.
On Friday, the protests resumed. Thousands of Palestinians took part in what the Israeli military described as violent riots at five locations along the security fence, burning tires and throwing stones. One Israeli army vehicle was fired on, and Palestinians planted a grenade that exploded on the Israeli side of the fence, the military said.
This was the scene that Najjar dashed into in her white coat to tend to an elderly man who had been hit in the head by a tear-gas canister, according to a witness, Ibrahim al-Najjar, 30, a relative of Najjar’s.
Other witnesses and the Gaza Health Ministry offered a slightly different version of events, saying that Najjar and other paramedics were walking toward the fence with their arms raised on their way to evacuate injured protesters when she was shot in the chest.
Najjar was a resident of Khuzaa, a farming village near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Her father, Ashraf al-Najjar, had a shop that sold motorcycle parts, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike during the 2014 war between Israel and the militant group, he said. He has since been unemployed.
The eldest of six children, Najjar did not score well enough in her high school exams to attend university, Najjar said. Instead, she trained for two years as a paramedic at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis and became a volunteer of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, a nongovernmental health organization.
Najjar, 44, said his daughter rose before dawn on Friday to eat and pray before the start of the daily, sunrise-to-sunset Ramadan fast. That was the last time he saw her.
When we met her at a protest camp in Khan Younis last month, she said her father was proud of what she did.
“We have one goal,” she said, “to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.”
On Friday, she was less than 100 yards from the fence when she was bandaging the man struck by the tear gas canister, Ibrahim al-Najjar said. The man was taken away in an ambulance, and other paramedics tended to Najjar, who was suffering the effects of the tear gas.
Then shots rang out, and Najjar fell to the ground.
Ibrahim carried her away, with the help of two others, and accompanied her in the ambulance.
“Razan was not shooting,” Ibrahim said. “Razan was saving souls and treating the wounded.”
She arrived at a field hospital in serious condition, the hospital manager, Dr. Salah al-Rantisi, said. She was then transferred to the European Gaza Hospital in Khan Younis, where she died in the operating room.
In a video of an interview in Arabic with a local news agency on Saturday, a woman identified as Najjar’s mother held up a blood-soaked vest and said, “This is my daughter’s weapon with which she was fighting the Zionists.” The woman also held up two unopened bandage rolls she said she had found in the vest and said, “These were her ammunition.” Najjar was one of the first medical volunteers at the Khan Younis protest camp, and particularly relished the idea that a woman could do that work.
“In our society women are often judged,” she said. “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.”