Gazans shocked by Israeli 'war crimes' as bulldozer mutilates Palestinian's body

The gruesome incident sparked uproar in the besieged enclave and a wave of militant rocket fire

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At around 6am on Sunday morning, Palestinian journalist Muthana Al Najjar rushed to the perimeter fence that separates Gaza from Israel to document a gruesome incident that was unfolding.

The 36-year-old said he’s never seen anything like it in his years covering the blockaded strip. In front of him was the lifeless body of Mohammed Al Naem hanging from the blades of an Israeli bulldozer.

"In more than a decade covering Gaza, this is the first time I see an event of this nature," Mr Al Najjar told The National.

A crowd of Palestinians had gathered in a bid to retrieve Al Naem’s body after he was shot by Israeli troops. Mr Al Najjar described the heavy Israeli troop presence preventing the crowd from moving forward, including soldiers supported by Merkava tanks atop sandbanks on the far Sadie of the fence. As people moved forward, the Israeli soldiers opened fire.

Israel said soldiers opened fire on two men planting explosives next to the border fence of the Hamas-run enclave. Al Naem was later identified as an affiliate of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group that is second to Hamas.

The Israeli military confirmed one of the men was killed and a military bulldozer removed his body.

But the image of Al Naem’s body dangling from the bulldozer’s mechanical arm sparked uproar in the besieged enclave. Islamic Jihad responded with a wave of rocket fire and Al Naem’s family decried his killing.

Israel responded with several airstrikes on Gaza and Syria, which led to the injury of four Palestinians, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health, and the death of two Islamic Jihad members in Damascus, according to the group’s spokesman Abu Hamza.

"Undoubtedly, this incident will unleash the latent potentials of the Palestinian fight against the occupation. We won't accept the killing of our people in cold blood," Islamic Jihad leader, Ahmed Al Modalal, told The National.

But Al Naem's family say they don't believe he was planting explosives or that he thought he would die that day. His mother, 56-year-old Mirvat Al Naem, told The National from her Gaza home that her son had insisted on inviting her for lunch the day he was killed. She said it would not make sense for him to endanger his life on the morning of the same day. "The Israelis were the ones to assault him on our ground and our land," she said.

Al Naem's wife, 25-year-old Hiba, told The National that her late husband was "a decent engineer, contracting for different companies and working hard to make a living."

She pointed out that they have been married for a year and a half and have a baby, Hamza, who's less than a year old.

"Why does our baby deserve to grow up without his father?" she asked.

After Al Naem was killed, Mr Al Najjar said that loudspeakers in the enclave crackled to life and called on people to rush to the scene to collect his remains before Israeli soldiers “arrive to steal it as has usually been the case in recent months.”

He said that local farmers and residents of neighbouring areas rushed forward and tried three times to collect Al Naem’s body. Each time they were forced back by live Israeli fire without prior warning. Two civilians were injured in the process.

As the people made the final attempt, a military bulldozer crossed 70 metres into Gaza, followed by an Israeli Merkava tank. Mr Al Najjar said this is a rare occurrence in daytime.

He described how the bulldozer rushed forward to cover the body of Al Naem with its scoop to prevent him being taken back into the enclave while soldiers shot at the crowd, hitting one rescuer in the leg.

Then, the bulldozer tried to pick up the body.

"The bulldozer made several failed attempts to violently snatch his body with its blade only, until it mutilated the body and dismembered parts of it," Mr Al Najjar said. “People managed to retrieve parts of his legs, which the family buried."

Israel's Defence Minister, Naftali Bennett, took to twitter to praise the military’s handling of the incident and the conduct of taking the bodies of Palestinians as a bargaining chip to negotiate the return of the bodies of two Israelis killed by Hamas in the strip during the 2014 war.

"This is how it should be done and this is how it will be done,” Mr Bennett said.

In Israel, the incident also drew criticism from rights groups. Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent a letter to the military head calling for a criminal investigation and said that the “actions depicted in the video [are] war crimes and blatant violations of international criminal law, and international human rights and humanitarian law.”

With eyes filled with tears, Mirvat begged for the return of her son.

"What's their purpose in mutilating his body after they killed him,” she asked with a shaking voice. “I want them to bring my son back, now before tomorrow. I have a right to see him one last time before we bury him here where I can visit him."

Mr Al Najjar’s footage of the last rescue attempt went viral but Al Naem's wife Hiba said she "would never watch the video".