We know her name but not, as the courageous Israeli journalist Amira Hass has pointed out, the name of the Israeli sniper who shot her down in cold blood during an unarmed demonstration at the blockaded Gazan border as she ran to aid a man struck in the head by a tear gas shell. She was 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar, a volunteer emergency medical worker, who, reported the New York Times, wanted to prove in an increasingly conservative Gaza Strip that "being a medic is not only a job for a man." Wearing a white coat clearly identifying her as medical personnel, she was shot through the chest and died in a Gazan hospital later that day. (Two other medics were wounded in the same set of incidents.) She was the second medic to die (while a reported 29 or more medical personnel were wounded by live fire) during the weeks of Palestinian protest called the Great Return March that just ended. The other was 36-year-old Mousa Jaber Abu Hassanein, wearing a white medic's vest.
In its "investigation" of the killing of Razan, the Israeli army claimed that "no shots were deliberately or directly aimed towards" her, but given the number of medical personnel who have been shot by snipers in recent weeks, such a claim rings hollow indeed as the desperation and determination of a Gazan population locked into what can only be thought of as a vast open-air prison becomes ever more apparent globally. Today, Fadi Abu Shammalah and TomDispatch regular Jen Marlowe provide an on-the-spot look at what propelled Razan and so many other women, young and old, toward that border wall with Israel and possible death and the ways in which women like her, in doing so, were also changing the nature of Gazan society. Tom
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"I am here because I heard my town call me, and ask me to maintain my honor." Fifty-seven-year-old Um Khalid Abu Mosa spoke in a strong, gravelly voice as she sat on the desert sand, a white tent protecting her from the blazing sun. "The land," she says with determination, "is honor and dignity."
She was near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khuza'a, the heavily fortified barrier with Israel in plain sight and well-armed Israeli soldiers just a few hundred meters away. Abu Mosa's left arm was wrapped in a sling fashioned from a black-and-white-checkered kuffiyeh, or scarf, and a Palestinian flag. Israeli soldiers had shot her in the shoulder with live ammunition on March 30th as she approached the barrier to plant a Palestinian flag in a mound of earth. The bullet is still lodged in her collarbone. Three weeks later, however, she's back at the Great Return March, a series of protests organized around five encampments stretching along a unilaterally imposed Israeli buffer zone on the 37-mile barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The Return March, which has just ended, was unique in recent history in Gaza for a number of reasons. Palestinians there are known for engaging in militant resistance against the Israeli occupation and also for the internal political split in their ranks between two dominant factions, Fatah and Hamas. Yet, in these weeks, the March has been characterized by a popular, predominantly nonviolent mobilization during which Gaza's fractured political parties have demonstrated a surprising degree of unity. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, women activists have played a visibly crucial role in the protests on a scale not seen for decades, possibly indicating what the future may look like when it comes to activism in the Gaza Strip.- Advertisement -
The Return March began on March 30th, or Land Day, commemorating the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations. The March was slated to end on May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Arabic for "catastrophe." The term is used to refer to the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel and the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians, as well as the depopulation of more than 450 Palestinian towns and villages. Seventy percent of Gaza's blockaded population is made up of those who fled or were expelled from their lands and villages during the Nakba or their descendants. The vast majority of those participating in the Great Return March, including Abu Mosa, know those native villages only through family lore, yet their yearning to return is visceral.
During the March, 125 Palestinians were killed and a staggering 13,000 wounded. Abu Mosa saw many fellow protesters wounded or killed, especially on May 14th, the day the Trump administration opened its new embassy in Jerusalem when the protests escalated and some participants attempted to break through the barrier.
On that day alone, Israeli forces killed 62 Palestinians and injured 2,700 more. "Don't ask me if someone close to me has been injured or killed," Abu Mosa says. "All the protesters are my relatives and friends. We became one family." After the carnage of May 14th, the grassroots committee organizing the March decided that the protests had to continue. The killings continued as well. On June 1st, a 21-year old woman volunteer paramedic was, for instance, shot in the chest and killed.
For Abu Mosa, a schoolteacher and mother of six, the March centers entirely on her dream of returning to her native town of Beer Sheva. And in its wake, she insists that she will go back, "and on my way, I will plant mint and flowers."
Much like Abu Mosa, 20-year-old Siwar Alza'anen, an activist in an organization called the Palestinian Students Labor Front, is motivated by a deep desire to return to her native village. She is also marching "to send a message to the international community that we are suffering a lot, we are living under pressure, siege, pain, poverty."
The Great Return March and the First Intifada- Advertisement -
A small Palestinian flag flutters on the edge of Samira Abdelalim's desk in Rafah, the southernmost town in the Gaza Strip. Forty-four-year-old Abdelalim serves as the director of the women's department at the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. Her steely eyes are framed with a simple navy-blue headscarf. Abdelalim hopes the Great March of Return will peacefully achieve the right of return to her people's villages, self-determination, and the possibility of living "in peace and freedom" -- but she's realistic, too. "I know that the occupation will not end in one day," she says, "but by cumulative work."
Iktimal Hamad is on the Supreme National Commission of the Return March, the only woman among the March's 15 lead organizers. Sitting in her Gaza City office, her light brown hair pulled into a tight bun, she speaks about her own double agenda -- to end the Israeli occupation, but also to promote equality for women in Gaza. "Women can play a prominent role in the liberation of Palestine, because they are integral to the Palestinian community," she tells us.
Abdelalim leads the March's women's committee in Rafah, one of five with 15 members for each of the encampments. With her fellow committee members, she organizes the women in the March, arranges logistics such as water and buses, and plans youth empowerment and cultural activities.