Since Land Day of this year (30 March 2018), Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been regularly holding mass protests by the Gaza perimeter fence, with numbers of protesters ranging from hundreds of individuals to tens of thousands. During the demonstrations, which are usually held on Fridays, some protesters torch tires and throw stones at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence. The forces fire tear gas and live ammunition at the protesters. In just over six months since this wave of mass protest began, Israeli forces have killed at least 166 people, including 31 minors, and injured more than 5,300 with live fire. Most of the casualties were not endangering the forces, who were on the other side of the fence.
Such a high number of casualties is a direct outcome of the open-fire policy that Israel employs along the Gaza perimeter fence, including during demonstrations held near the fence. Although the lethal outcomes of this criminal policy are well-known, Israeli authorities refuse to change it, remaining indifferent to the lives and deaths of Palestinians. In fact, the prime minister and his government prefer to continue this hardline approach (with cabinet members arguing over the numbers – the minister of defense boasts of the many dead wounded while the minister of education demands even higher numbers). The military executes this political directive, even safeguarding it with whitewashing mechanisms that ensure that, with the exception of very rare cases, no one will be held accountable for killing Palestinians.
Following are a sampling of testimonies B’Tselem collected in its investigation of the deaths of four out of the 31 minors killed until 8 October 2018.
The killing of ‘Iz a-Din a-Samak (13) east of al-Bureij Refugee Camp, 14 May 2018
On Monday, 14 May 2018, at around 8:00 A.M., three boys – ‘Iz a-Din a-Samak (13), Hareth a-Samak (14) and Ibrahim al-Hur (14) – from al-Bureij R.C. headed to a demonstration held by the perimeter fence, east of the camp. They sat down on a dirt pile about 300 meters away from the fence, near the protest tents, and watched the demonstrators. ‘Iz a-Din was shot in the abdomen and died of his wounds in hospital.
Hareth a-Samak, a relative of ‘Iz a-Din’s, gave his testimony to B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 16 May. He recounted what happened that day:
At about ten o’clock in the morning, the three of us headed out there and went over to a cart filled with stones that was standing about 200 meters south of the tents. We collected a bunch of stones, put them into a cloth sack and went back. We sat down by a dirt pile about 300 meters from the fence, the Jakar Road. ‘Iz a-Din sat on the sack of stones, in front of us. Two other guys were sitting with us. Suddenly we heard live gunfire. ‘Iz a-Din raised his right arm, lowered it and stayed still. Ibrahim and I tried to pull him towards shelter with us, and then I saw there was blood pouring down his back, all the way down to his knees. He was unconscious.
Ibrahim al-Hur related in a testimony that he gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 16 May:
Suddenly I heard live gunfire. I looked at ‘Iz a-Din, who was sitting in front of me. He raised his right arm, lowered it and stayed seated. I reached out to pull him away and saw that he was bleeding from the back. I realized he’d been hit. He was losing a lot of blood and it was dripping down to his knees. He couldn’t talk. He had passed out. He was taken by ambulance to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital. My friends and I went home to tell his family. About an hour later, we were told that he’d died as a martyr while the doctors were operating on him.
‘Iz a-Din loved to play soccer and swim in the pool. He was a good swimmer and a top student, and everyone liked him. He told us that his dream was to be a famous soccer player and he was a Barca fan. I still feel he’s alive. It’s a nightmare. I can’t believe he’s gone and won’t be back. I can’t eat or sleep properly. I can’t imagine my life without him.
The medical team found that a-Samak had been injured by a bullet that entered his abdomen and exited through his back. He died in surgery.
In a testimony that his mother, Suheila a-Samak (54), a mother of eight, gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 29 August 2018, she said:
‘Iz a-Din was my youngest, my little boy. In primary school he was one of the best in his class, and in high school he got very high grades. The teachers always told me he was a top student, but he preferred to play soccer in the yard with his friends. He wrote the names of the Barca players he admired on a wall at home. He was crazy about that team. He also played on the team of a nearby mosque.
When the Return Protests began, ‘Iz a-Din started taking part in the processions east of al-Bureij R.C. along with his friends and other kids from the neighborhood. He was affected by the political situation and by the blockade that Gaza’s been under for so many years. He knew, from things that his father and I told him, that we own land in the city of Jaffa, from which we were expelled by the occupation in 1948. It was important to him that the world hear the message that he, and all kids in Gaza, are suffering under the blockade and in pain over the situation.
In the first two weeks after they killed him, I went into his room only once. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I started looking at his stuff. I saw his prayer mat. I made his bed and took his clothes out of the wardrobe to smell him, and put them away again. I hugged his pillow and started crying on his bed.
He’s never out of my mind, not even for a second. I sit outside the house and wonder, might he walk in? Sometimes, when I look at his picture on the wall, I can’t believe he was killed. I tell myself that he’s not dead. But then my head starts throbbing and I feel as if someone’s telling me that he really is a martyr now. When I go to sleep, I remember how he used to stroke my face and say: I want to sleep next to you.
Today was the first day of school. From 6:30 in the morning, I sat outside the house and remembered how he used to go off to school. I saw his friends go by and cried. My daughter asked me what was wrong and I said it was nothing, that I felt suffocated and stunned. Since they killed ‘Iz a-Din, I’ve stopped seeing people and hardly leave the house. I only go out to visit my son’s grave. When I go there, I stay about an hour and a half. I pray for his soul and recall all the phases of his development, from the time he was baby to the last few days before he was killed.
The killing of Yasser Abu a-Naja (11) north of the town of Khuza’a, 29 June 2018
On 29 June 2018, during a demonstration along the fence north of the town of Khuza’a, Israeli security forces shot Yasser Abu a-Naja, an 11-year-old from Khan Yunis, in the head while he was hiding behind a shelter improvised out of concertina wire, tires and a dumpster. According to the military, that day, Molotov cocktails were lobbed in the Khan Yunis area.
Madlen al-Aqra’, a 19-year-old journalist from Deir al-Balah, was reporting on the demonstration. She fainted after inhaling tear gas fired at the journalists and protesters, and was taken to the tent area. Some time later, she approached the fence again. In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 1 July 2018, al-Aqra’ described what happened that day:
In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 1 July 2018, Madlen al-Aqra’ described what happened that day:
I went back out into the field to report and stood next a colleague of mine from the news agency. We were both standing behind the protesters. I looked towards the fence and saw several boys and young men taking cover behind a makeshift shelter made of a few tires and bits of barbed wire people had got hold of in previous demonstrations. They were a few dozen meters from the fence. I was a few dozen meters from their shelter. A few guys rolled tires over to another group, so they could torch them next to the fence.
At that time, around 6:50 P.M., I was looking at the shelter. I heard live gunfire and saw a kid hiding behind it fall down. He hadn’t done anything. A bunch of guys gathered around him and started shouting for an ambulance.
They helped the paramedics carry the kid on a stretcher to the ambulance. I ran over with the paramedics and filmed them live, on my cellphone, carrying him to the tent. He had been hit in the head. They tried to give him first aid and then quickly shifted him to a Red Crescent ambulance that took him to hospital.
Ahmad al-Qara (29) from Khuza’a, an administrative staff member of Al-Aqsa University in western Khan Yunis, described in a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 1 July 2018 what he saw at the time of the shooting:
At about 6:55 P.M., I saw three kids around twelve or thirteen years old hiding behind a dumpster and a pile of junk about 100 meters from the fence. There was a lot of tear gas so people were running west, but the three kids stayed put behind the dumpster with a few other guys. At the same time, I saw a soldier behind a small dirt pile. He climbed off it and onto a higher one, and then I heard a single shot. I saw one of the kids come out from behind the dumpster and walk towards me. He was checking his body. His clothes were bloodstained and I heard him shout: “Martyr… martyr”. I saw several dozen people run towards the dumpster and the guys pick up one of the two remaining kids and carry him away.
Abu a-Naja was taken to the European Hospital south of Khan Yunis, where he died of a bullet wound to the head.
The killing of ‘Othman Hiles (14) east of Gaza City, 13 July 2018
On Friday, 13 July 2018, at around 2:00 P.M., three 14-year-olds from Gaza City – ‘Othman Hiles, ‘Abdallah al-‘Arej and Muaiad Jundiyeh – came to the protest area east of the city. Once there, they sat down at a spot about 200 to 300 meters from the fence. According to the military, that evening one of the protesters in the area hurled a grenade that moderately injured an officer.
At approximately 6:00 P.M., they decided to get closer to the fence, where several young men and two women were standing with Palestinian flags. In video footage posted on social media, Hiles is seen approaching the fence, starting to climb it and then being shot.
In a testimony that ‘Abdallah al-‘Arej gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 15 July 2018, he described how the incident unfolded:
‘Othman told us to get closer to the fence so he could touch it. We got up to about twenty meters from it, where we found a few guys and some girls holding Palestinian flags. ‘Othman told me he wanted to go over to the two girls because he was stronger and braver than them, and that he would touch the fence. I told him that the military would shoot us because we’re boys, but wouldn’t shoot the girls. I said: “‘Othman, no, let’s go back, the army will snipe at us.” He didn’t listen.
A minute later, ‘Othman walked towards the fence, with me and Muaiad next to him. We got so close to the electronic fence that we could touch it. ‘Othman said to me: “I’ll touch the fence and go back, leave me be, I don’t want to go back.” I was about a meter away from him. He just managed to touch the fence and climb on to it, when the Israeli military shot live gunfire at him. He fell down. Tear gas canisters were fired and I choked up and couldn’t help him. Scared, I moved a back a little and I started shouting that ‘Othman had fallen as a martyr and that we needed a stretcher there to get him medical care. I couldn’t lift him. He was all bloody. The bullet went into his chest and out of his back.
Wael Hiles (30) from Gaza City is a relative of ‘Othman’s. In testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 24 July 2018, he described what he had seen:
At 6:00 P.M. I was about twenty meters from the perimeter fence. I saw a few girls waving Palestinian flags very close to it. A few kids went over to them. I saw them from behind and from a distance, so I didn’t recognize ‘Othman and or realize that he was one of the kids. I saw a kid climb the fence and then the Israeli military shoot him. He fell down and stopped moving. One of the bullets hit him in the chest, near the heart, and came out through the back.
As I ran over, one of the demonstrators told me that the kid who’d been sniped at was a relative of mine. I got close to ‘Othman but couldn’t get to him to help him, because he was surrounded by demonstrators trying to help him. There was a lot of blood and I immediately understood that he was dead.
The young men took Hiles to a-Shifaa Hospital in Gaza City, where he was pronounced dead.
‘Othman’s mother, Asmahan Hiles (39), a married mother of six, gave her testimony to B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 1 August 2018:
‘Othman was my third child. I didn’t like it that he went to the Return marches. He told me that he always stayed very far from the fence and that I shouldn’t worry. That evening, at exactly six o’clock, my husband Rami called and said ‘Othman had been injured at the demonstration and was being taken to a-Shifaa Hospital. I was visiting relatives and he asked me to go back home. I refused and went straight to the hospital to make sure ‘Othman was okay. On the way, I prayed to God that he wasn’t badly injured. I hoped I’d see him in bed, laughing and smiling, and then I’d say: “‘Othman, you had me so worried. See, you did get hurt.” When I got to the hospital, I heard people saying there was a martyr from the Hiles family, but I didn’t think it would be ‘Othman. I went into the ER to see him, but they wouldn’t let me near and a security guard talked to my brother-in-law who was there. I asked my brother-in-law and he said that ‘Othman was okay. Later, in the waiting room, I heard people say there was a boy martyr named ‘Othman Hiles.
I fainted. When I came to, I started crying and shouting. My brother-in-law asked me to go back home but I wouldn’t. I wanted to see ‘Othman. I went to the body refrigerator and saw his body. I cried and screamed. I told them that I wanted to stay with him and not leave him alone in the refrigerator. Then I fainted again. When I woke up, I was at home. All the women were around me, crying and keening. I asked them to take me back to ‘Othman. I told them that he was alive and that he hadn’t been killed. I started saying, “‘Othman is alone in that refrigerator now. ‘Othman is afraid of being alone. Take me there, I want to be with him. ‘Othman is a little boy. Why was he shot? How did he become a martyr?”
Ever since ‘Othman was killed, I’ve watched the footage over and over, asking myself, “What did he do that was so terrible?”. I watch the video and cry my heart out. I ask myself, how did he feel when the bullet pierced his body? Did it cause my little boy a lot of pain? How could he bear the pain of the bullet when it hit him?
It hurts so much. Saying goodbye to ‘Othman is so hard. The fact that he touched the fence had no effect on the Israeli military. He didn’t have any weapon to attack the military. He wasn’t holding a stone. He wasn’t masked. I pray to God to give me strength to carry on. My heart aches when I see his friends playing soccer in the street, and he isn’t there with them. They stole away my boy’s life and childhood. My husband and sons still can’t believe he’s gone, either. My husband says he keeps imagining that ‘Othman will open the door and just walk in any minute now. He says that without ‘Othman, our home means nothing.
I pray to God for the strength to continue without my son. I pray for his soul and hope that God will be merciful to him and take him under His wing.
The killing of Ahmad Abu Tyour (16) east of Rafah, 7 September 2018
On Friday, 7 September 2018, at approximately 6:00 P.M., a member of the Israeli security forces shot Ahmad Abu Tyour, a sixteen-year-old from Rafah, who was standing near concertina wire laid out by the military about ten to twenty meters away from the fence. At the same demonstration, protesters sent up a flaming kite that landed on an Israeli communications tower on the other side of the fence.
In video footage posted on social media, Abu Tyour is seen waving to soldiers who were about ten meters away from the fence, on the other side of the fence. He is then seen picking up a stone, throwing it in their direction, waving at them again, and then getting shot in the leg.
In a testimony that Ahmad’s brother, Tamer Abu Tyour (28) – a married father of four from Rafah – gave B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 10 September 2018, he related what happened that day:
On Friday, 7 September 2018, at about 2:00 P.M., I walked over to eastern Rafah. When I got there, I met a few young guys and kids, including my brothers Haytham, Thaer and Munzer. My brother Ahmad was distributing tires by the fence so that when the other protesters arrived, at about 4:30-5:00, they’d set them on fire.
The protesters arrived at 5:00 and started torching tires and throwing stones at the soldiers, who responded with live gunfire and tear-gas canisters. There were soldiers on the red tower and behind dirt barriers. Some of them were snipers positioned to shoot at the protesters. There were also three jeeps with a device for firing tear-gas canisters. Some of the protesters cut the concertina wire and the fence.
I passed tires along and so did Ahmad. He also lit them. He was about twenty meters from the fence. Soldiers fired live bullets at us from the red tower. Ahmad was standing by the fence with his hands up in the air, about 25 meters away from me, when suddenly he fell down. Paramedics rushed over to him and took him away in an ambulance. I tried to get in but they wouldn’t let me. I forced my way in, and the ambulance took us to a field hospital. Ahmad said that it felt like an electrical shock. His leg was bleeding badly. He had a bullet hole above his right knee. He was carried out of the ambulance and given first aid. Our mother came to see him. I told her it was only a light injury, so she wouldn’t worry.
Then, Ahmad was taken to the European Hospital. My mother and I were with him. We stroked his face and tried to calm him down. He asked for water. When we got to the hospital, he was X-rayed and taken into the operating room. He only came out at midnight. Later, they operated on him again to suture the severed artery. We waited for him to come out. He was given several transfusions because of the bleeding. All this wasn’t enough. The next day – Saturday, 8 September, at 11:00 A.M. – he was declared a martyr.
Ahmad’s mother, ‘Aidah Abu Tyour (49), a mother of eleven, described the events of that day in a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 7 October 2018:
Ahmad took part in the Return Marches from the beginning. He went there every Friday at 9:00 o’clock in the morning. I tried to stop him because I was afraid he’d get hurt, but he wouldn’t listen and said I couldn’t keep him from going. Because I was worried about him, I made a point of attending the processions every Friday.
On Friday, 7 September 2018, I didn’t see Ahmad in the morning. He had slept over at a friend’s house and come home in the morning while I was out. My daughter-in-law told me that he’d gone out to the march at nine. I had a feeling that something bad was about to happen. I kept asking about Ahmad. I decided to go to the march and got there at 4:30 P.M. I asked one of the young guys about Ahmad. He told me that he was by the fence and was fine. I couldn’t get closer because there were a lot of demonstrators and the soldiers were firing tear gas and live bullets. I prayed that Ahmad would come home safe and sound. I was very worried about him because of the intensive shooting.
At around 5:00 P.M., I was sitting with some other women when a young masked guy came up to me and said: “Your son Ahmad has been hit, he was in the ambulance that just drove by.” I rushed after the ambulance to the medical tent. I found Ahmad inside, lying on a bed, with doctors bandaging his leg. I said: “Thank God the bullet only hit him in the leg.” He was screaming and yelling in pain. I said to him: “Ahmad, thank God, it’s a light injury, it’s your leg.” He yelled and said: “There’s electricity going through my leg.”
On Saturday morning, I went home to pick up some things and then go back to Ahmad. I had a feeling he’d be in hospital for a long time. Suddenly, I got a call from my son Tamer. He asked me to come to the hospital. I asked him if Ahmad was okay and he said he was. At the hospital, I asked Tamer again and he said that Ahmad was all right. I said he was keeping something from me and that something was wrong with Ahmad. I asked his brother Iyad, and he told me that Ahmad’s heart had stopped twice during surgery and that he had fluid in his lungs. Just then I asked a doctor about Ahmad. He told me that they needed thirty blood units for him because he was bleeding heavily and it still hadn’t stopped. I immediately called Ahmad’s friends and asked them to come give him blood.
I sat down by the entrance to the operating room, hoping to get good news. At about 11:00 A.M., a doctor came out and called: “Abu Tyour.” I went over with my sons Iyad and Munzer. The doctor wouldn’t let me in the room. My sons came out of the room shouting: “Ahmad fell as a martyr.” I started shouting and begged the doctors: “Please, let me in, I want to see Ahmad.” I went in and saw Ahmad lying on the bed. His face and legs were pale. I hugged him and kissed him all over, crying all the time.
It was the hardest day of my life. I wish I’d seen Ahmad that morning, before he went to the demonstration. I so much want to say to him: “Take care, don’t go near the fence, I want to see you back home in the evening, and have dinner with you and your brothers. I want you to tell me what happened at the march.” He left me in sorrow and pain. I still can’t believe Ahmad was martyred and that I’ll never see him again. When I’m at home, I feel him laughing by my side. Ahmad loved to listen to dahiya dance music and dance the dabkeh. Since he died, I haven’t been able to hear dahiya songs because they remind me of him. I keep watching the footage of his injury over and over again, despite the pain. His crying out still pain me. I wish I’d taken the bullet instead of him.