On this Land Day, I was at Erez Crossing. Several hundred youth had managed to find their way around the Hamas policemen blocking the roads leading to Erez. At the crossing, they moved to within 200 yards of the Israeli gate. There they found their path blocked by rows of concertina wire across the road. The shabob set fire to tires in the roadway and threw stones towards the Israeli wall, most falling into the roadway, well short of their target. Intermittently and without warning, the Israeli occupation forces open fire on the stone throwers. Each volley consists of one to three shots, and with each volley, young men fall. Others immediately retrieve them. Dozens of youth mob the wounded. Somehow they manage to carry them through the crowd and load them onto motorcycles where they are ferried to the Palestinian side of the crossing to waiting ambulances.
I wonder about the young soldiers, picking their targets amongst the crowd and firing, like shooting fish in a barrel. I remember in 2002, the head of the IAF, Dan Halutz was asked what it felt like releasing a bomb over Gaza, and he said, "No. That is not a legitimate question and it is not asked. But if you nevertheless want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb's release. A second later it's gone, and that's all. That is what I feel."
I disagree with Halutz on this point. In any caring world this is a completely legitimate question. It is the answer that rings of illegitimacy. It is the answer of a sociopath. I wonder if this dehumanization trickles down to the soldiers opposite us. I wonder what they feel.
And I wonder about the young stone throwers, completely exposed to the guns of the Israelis, knowing full well someone is going to be shot.
At the mourning tent of the only fatality that day, Mahmoud Zaqout, who would have been 20 years old on April 19, I speak to his father, Mohamed and his cousin, Nizar Zaqout.
Mahmoud's cousin, Nizar, who was at Mahmoud's side at Erez, hobbles over to us on crutches, to talk about the moments leading up to Mahmoud's death. They had traveled to Erez with two friends. They carried a Palestinian flag. Nizar tells us Mahmoud had a premonition of his impending death, and prior to entering the crossing he stopped to pray. They decided to move forward and place the Palestinian flag on the gate. In order to do this they would need to move the razor wire blocking the road and they began pulling on it. Israeli soldiers, crouching behind concrete blocks signaled to them as if to say, "What are you doing, you'll see what happens."
On seeing the soldiers the two friends retreat. Mahmoud and Nizar continued pulling on the wire, determined to place the flag at the gate. Nizar said the soldiers signaled them with thumbs up. Shots rang out. Nizar and Mahmoud turned and ran. Nizar saw the blood on Mahmoud's neck, after a few steps, Mahmoud collapsed in Nizar's arms. Nizar carried his cousin back to the crowd of Palestinian youth. He held his hand over the wound as they were loaded onto a motorcycle. When they reached the ambulance, an attendant pointed to Nizar's bleeding thigh. He had been shot as well.
Someone handed Nizar a blood-stained flag. The blood was Mahmoud's. Nizar held the flag close to his cheek, breathing deeply. Breathing in the blood-stained cloth, Mahmoud, his lost uncles, and all the sorrow and loss of Palestine, Nizar paused. He said, "Mahmoud could not place the flag at the gate. I will. Or my children will. We will continue to resist until we win our rights. Mahmoud's blood will not be wasted. Hundreds will take his place. We will fight for our rights, for our children, we will fight until we get our land back."
This is what is happening in Gaza. The 36th anniversary of Land Day has come and gone. Israeli soldiers shot two young men, armed only with a flag, from point-blank range. Over the course of the day, they shot dozens of young men, all armed with nothing more than stones. While I stood in Erez Crossing, no tear gas or other methods of crowd dispersal were employed. No warning shots were fired. Every shot hit flesh. American media does not find the story newsworthy. Nakba Day, "The Catastrophe," is next, on May 15. The youth will return to Erez Crossing. How many will be shot? Will the world take note?