Note: This piece is being published as part of a regular series to bring under-reported Palestinian voices to Vermonters.
Razan Ashraf Abdul Qadir al-Najjar, 21 was killed on June 1 by Israeli sniper fire as she ran in her white uniform with a red cross clearly identifying her as a medic, to treat a protester wounded in the “Great March of Return.” She was near Khan Younis and about 100 metres from the border fence that Israel erected around Gaza. Was Razan simply a human shield for Hamas, giving up her life for a photo op as is claimed in mainstream media, or was she a full blown young person with loved ones, plans, dreams? Presented as a pawn stripped of human agency, we don’t need to deal with the suffering her early death has caused, or address the larger suffering of Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza.
Razan was the eldest of 6 children from the village of Khuzaa, near Khan Younis. She was by all accounts, a dedicated health worker with Palestinian Medical Relief Services, a long established local Palestinian NGO that provides a third of all medical services in the occupied Palestinian territory. In a short interview recorded weeks earlier, she says her father is proud that she is working and earning a salary. She says she wants to help others in this effort to resist the occupation, and she is not afraid; she is as brave as any man. Did Razan have plans to study more, perhaps become a doctor, to marry and have children? If not for the occupation, and particularly the blockade, Razan’s work might have expanded, deepened, and led to a lasting and meaningful role in her community. She could certainly have gone further than tending to the wounded on a battlefield tilted against her. Razan was a daughter, a sister, a dedicated young woman with much life yet to live. She was a human being to whom the same rights in life, to life, are due as are due to all of us, and to all Palestinians.
Since “The Great March of Return” began on March 30, 120 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, and more than 13,400 wounded, hundreds of them medical workers, in clear violation of international law But why are they marching, and what is it about?
For 12 years the entire population of Gaza, now 2 million people, has been subject to a relentless air, sea and land blockade, enforced by a “no-go” barbed wire buffer zone on Gazan territory. Two major massacres have taken place, Operation Cast Lead in 2008 killing 1400 Palestinians, almost all civilians (and 5 Israeli soldiers, no civilians), and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, killing 2100 Palestinians, almost all civilians (and 66 Israeli soldiers, 6 civilians). Massive infrastructure damage was inflicted in Gaza on schools, hospitals, sewage treatment plants, power plants, and thousands of homes were reduced to rubble. Gaza been turned into a toxic open air prison, from which few are granted escape, not for medical care, education, to see family, to till land that is theirs, or to return to homes taken from them in 1948 or 1967. Many in the West, including those old enough to remember, have remarked on chilling similarities to conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto where under the Nazis, Jews were forced from their homes into a tiny part of the city surrounded by barbed wire, and endured a slow strangulation before being slaughtered.
Beginning on March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children, most of them refugees, have camped and marched, largely unarmed, along the land blockade that imprisons them. They are demanding the right of return guaranteed to all refugees from war under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. They are protesting the 50 year-long Israeli occupation and, the inflammatory move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli snipers with high powered rifles have taken careful aim, and claimed the lives and limbs of young people, children, the elderly, an amputee in a wheelchair, the press and medical aid workers.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian territory, Michael Lynk said on May 15, “This blatant excessive use of force by Israel – an eye for an eyelash – must end, and there must be true accountability for those in military and political command who have ordered or allowed this force to be once again employed at the Gaza fence.” Canada, Britain, Germany, Ireland and Belgium have also called for an investigation into the killings.
The U.S. Government, which allocates almost $4 billion yearly to the Israeli military, must also hold them responsible. The “Leahy Law,” prohibits the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign security forces, units or individuals that violate human rights with impunity. On May 14, Senator Leahy made this statement in response to the entirely disproportionate use of force against Palestinian demonstrators:
“Shooting protesters, many of whom were reportedly unarmed or throwing rocks which did not justify such a disproportionate response, is deplorable. It should be thoroughly investigated and anyone responsible, including those who gave the orders, held accountable. The State Department should promptly determine if individuals or units involved in the shootings should be prohibited from receiving U.S. training or equipment, consistent with the Leahy Law.” *
Gazans are marching to protest the blockade that severely limits food, essential medicines, medical equipment, construction materials to re-build houses destroyed by Israeli bombs, the complete lack of potable drinking water, almost 50% unemployment, and unending poverty. They are protesting their isolation from the outside world, the restriction of access to basic life ingredients, a carefully calculated calorie-count that determines the amount of food that should cross the blockade to barely sustain Palestinian life. They are protesting despair with steadfast courage that they call sumud. It is urgent that we speak out and act to protect Palestinians in Gaza from this draconian, U.S. supported blockade that reduces life into enduring an open-air prison – we must not forget Razan, and the others killed and maimed.
– Khalid Myshkin & Kathy Shapiro, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
ACTION *Please call or write Senator Leahy and thank him for his concern; ask him to get back to you as soon as possible with the State Department’s response. Call (202) 224-4242/(802) 863-2525; email https://www.leahy.senate.gov/contact/
Photo source: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/49564.htm;