Unarmed Gazans keep on protesting despite Israeli bullets

Ibrahim Madi, who has been shot twice by rubber-coated steel bullets, says Palestinians "shouldn’t be scared of fighting till the last drop of blood and the last breath”.

Tear gas hits a Palestinian protester during clashes with Israeli security forces near Gaza City on October 30, 2015. Palestinians have staged a series of Day of Rage rallies against Israeli authorities. Mohammed Abed/AFP
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GAZA CITY // Ibrahim Madi has been shot twice with rubber-coated steel bullets while protesting in the Gaza Strip against Israel’s response to the latest round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, sustaining moderate injuries. On both occasions, he said, he was unarmed.

Mr Madi, 28, is one of hundreds of Gazans – both male and female – who have braved Israeli tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live fire to take part in near-daily demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border over the past month.

Seventeen demonstrators have been killed so far, according to the Palestine health ministry.

Mr Madi said his brother was seriously injured by live fire at a demonstration on October 16 but, despite the threat facing them, he and his fellow protesters would not be deterred.

“I’m not scared to keep going [to the protests]. We are going to keep protesting ... until all of Palestine is liberated.”

“No one cares for our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the ’48 territories,” the Gaza City resident added, referring to Palestinians in the state of Israel.

“We shouldn’t be scared of fighting till the last drop of blood and the last breath.”

A Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli police at a border crossing between the northern occupied West Bank and Israel on Saturday. Police said the man was armed with a knife but did not harm anyone.

His death took the toll of Palestinians killed in the past month of violence to 72, including bystanders, protesters and alleged attackers, according to the health ministry in Ramallah, with another 2,240 injured. Eleven Israelis have also been killed.

Israeli officials alleged that one of the protesters killed in the southern Gaza Strip on October 20 was a member of a Palestinian sniper cell, firing at Israeli soldiers across the border. So far, this has been Israel’s only accusation of armed activity by Palestinians protesting in Gaza.

But Dr Ramy Abdu, chairman of the Switzerland-based NGO Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights in Gaza, said his organisation had found no evidence that any of the killed or injured protesters were armed.

“Every week, our team interviews protesters throughout Gaza, and the evidence shows that shootings took place from short distances with live ammunition”, which simultaneously allows for greater accuracy and increased responsibility for the Israeli soldiers.

"The shootings are arbitrary and intentional, and have targeted unarmed protesters," Dr Abdu told The National. He said that besides interviewing protesters, his organisation also collected testimony and medical reports from doctors who treat the wounded.

The armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, has confirmed that one of its members, Jihad Al Obeid, 22, was killed by Israeli live fire during a protest on the border on October 9, but said he was unarmed at the time.

Dr Abdu said the term “excessive force” that has been used by organisations such as Amnesty International to describe violence by Israeli security forces towards Palestinians did not adequately apply to the 17 deaths in Gaza.

The term “would mean that they were shot in their arms and legs”, he said.

But more than half of those killed were “shot in their head”, Dr Abdu observed. “It’s deliberate killing ... these constitute a clear violation of international law.”

The Israeli military did not respond to The National's request for comment, saying these events were "under investigation".

The current cycle of violence seems to be on the minds, lips and television sets of every Palestinian in Gaza.

At a Friday sermon on October 9, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s chief in Gaza, said the territory would “fulfil its role” in the current uprising, and that it was “more than ready for confrontation”. On October 21, Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal told an audience in South Africa that “the uprisings shall continue until freedom is achieved and the land is for Palestine and its people”.

Hani Habib, a Gaza-based independent political analyst said that while there was “a sincere desire for Palestinians in Gaza to show solidarity with their brothers in the West Bank and Jerusalem”, there is a clear lack of desire for an armed escalation.

Nazer Abu Mohammed, a 52-year-old estate agent from Gaza City, said such a prospect concerned him.

“When there is a problem in the West Bank and Jerusalem, people in Gaza pay the price,” he said. “What’s happening now is horrible. What would be worse is another war in Gaza.”

Gaza faces the highest unemployment rate in the world – 43 per cent, according to the World Bank – and still bears the scars from three Israeli assaults since 2009.

The last war in 2014 killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including about 1,500 civilians. Defence for Children International Palestine, a Ramallah-based organisation focusing on child rights, said that 547 of them were children.

On top of this, the Palestinian enclave has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.

“There has been a huge cost for the Palestinians in Gaza, and we are still paying it,” Mr Habib said. “If you pay attention to the people travelling to the border to protest, you will see that they have decided to leave the weapons at home.”