Diaphanous clouds of smoke moved to and fro in the wind above a group of Palestinian youth, waving Palestinian flags, standing on top of a promontory. Beyond it lay the Israeli border. I was near the Nahal Oz crossing, close to where Israel brings diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip.
It was Land Day. The sharp pop and crack of bullets flying through the air grew louder as I drew closer to the group of shebab and cameramen on the low ridge, maybe 300 meters from the border.
The smoke was from tires or garbage bags set aflame, or grass on which someone had tossed a match. The smoke gave the confrontation the look of a war-zone. It looked like what it was. On the far side of the border were several IDF jeeps, at least two Merkava tanks, looming, their turrets pointed at the group of fired-up Palestinians. There was also a Hammer, an electronic monitoring vehicle that can hear conversations at a great distance.
Other Palestinian youths were much closer to the border, 200 meters, or 100 meters. All were bravely waving Palestinian flags. They were there to commemorate Land Day. Land Day in Palestine is celebrated on March 30, an annual commemoration of the events of that day in 1976.
In response to the Israeli government’s announcement of its plan to expropriate thousands of dunums—a dunum is a quarter acre—of land, Palestinians had a general strike, and there were thousands of marches in Arab towns across the breadth of Palestine. In confrontations with the Israeli army, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by the IDF.
The demonstration I was at was “calm”: no one was shot and bullets were restricted to warning shots, 10 or 20 meters away, as Palestinian youths huddled behind a rock for safety 60 meters in front of me. For them, the Israeli sniper bullets may not have been warning shots. Other demonstrators were less fortunate. News agencies reported between 9 and 16 injuries.
Eva Bartlett writes:
Four non-violent demonstrators were shot at close range with live ammunition by Israeli soldiers during six simultaneous protests throughout the Gaza Strip commemorating “Land Day”.
Three of those injured come from Khoza’a, a village east of Khan Younis in Gaza’s south. The fourth, from Deir al Balah, was participating in a peaceful demonstration east of Meghazi, central Gaza.
The Khoza’a demonstration neared the border shortly after 12 noon. Israeli jeeps stopped along the Green Line border, their number increasing quickly. Israeli soldiers exited their jeeps and assumed sniper positions on a raised dirt mound and along the border fence.
Jemah Najjar, 22, was the first to fasten a Palestinian flag to the border fence in today’s demonstration. He was also the first injured in the Khoza’a region, roughly 10 minutes after he had placed the flag on the fence, he estimates.
Israeli soldiers repeatedly opened fire on the very visibly unarmed demonstrators, without any verbal warning, nor without warning shots in the air.
Pieces of the IOF bullet which struck Jemah Najjar are still lodged in his head. He will require an operation to remove them, if it is possible.
These are non-violent protests. Organizers here are telling us that Bilin could never have become what it is without the accompanying mediatic support. Right now the non-violent protests in Gaza, next week re-commencing daily, need that support. The NYT and the Washington Post will note these protests when they are shamed into it. Let’s shame them.