On Friday, 10 August 2018, as part of the protests that have been taking place in the Gaza Strip under the slogan “Great March of Return” since Land Day on 30 March 2018, a demonstration was held close to the perimeter fence to the east of Rafah. Thousands of protestors participated in the demonstration, some burning tires and throwing stones at Israeli security forces stationed on the other side of the fence. The forces fired tear gas canisters and live ammunition, killing three residents of Rafah: Ahmad Abu Luli, 30, who was shot in the hip; ‘Abdallah Qutati, 22, a paramedic who was shot in the chest; and ‘Ali al-‘Alul, 54, who was also shot in the chest. All three men were killed close to the fence between 5:00 and 6:00 PM.
B'Tselem’s investigation found that Abu Luli and Qutati were not endangering the security forces on the other side of the fence in any way. B'Tselem was unable to undertake a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Al-‘Alul.
The Killing of Ahmad Abu Luli
At about 4:30 P.M., the number of demonstrators began to increase and they advanced toward the fence. Ya’qub Abu Sneimah, 38, a resident of Rafah and father of five, arrived at the demonstration together with his friend Ahmad Abu Luli.
In testimony taken by B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 13 August 2018, Abu Sneimah described what happened that day:
Ahmad told me he wanted to get closer to the perimeter fence. At first there were only a few people there. I told him that there weren’t any demonstrators and that I didn’t want to get closer in case they shot at us. Then we saw a few demonstrators moving toward the fence, so we moved forward, too. We were on the southern side of the fence and there were also a few demonstrators on the northern side. Ahmad and I were standing next to each other, about 15-20 meters from the fence.
At about 5:30 P.M. we heard a shot. Ahmad threw himself to the ground and said, “I fell on top of you… what happened?” I checked myself and didn’t find anything. Then I looked at Ahmad and told him, “You’re injured.” I saw blood on the ground. Paramedics arrived and rushed Ahmad away because he was bleeding heavily.
Sabrin Qishtah, 28, a resident of Rafah who is married and has one child, is a volunteer paramedic. She was at the demonstration as part of a medical team.
In testimony taken by B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 12 August 2018, Qishtah stated:
At about 4:30 P.M., demonstrators began to arrive in larger numbers. Then they went towards the fence. I also went in that direction, together with the paramedic ‘Abdallah Qutati and some other paramedics. We didn’t walk next to the demonstrators because we were afraid the Israeli army would shoot us and claim that they hadn’t deliberately fired at a medical team, or that we were providing protection for the demonstrators. At about 5:00 P.M., ‘Abdallah and I were about 20 meters from the fence. We were wearing paramedics’ uniforms with the well-known logo, with medical team tags pinned to them. At that point Israeli soldiers, who were positioned on the sand piles, opened fire. I saw about three soldiers on the sand piles and another one alongside them, with a sniper rifle.
I was standing about a meter behind Ahmad Abu Luli, who was hit by the gunfire. He fell to the ground and ‘Abdallah and I went up to give him first aid. He was lying on his injured side and ‘Abdallah turned him over. He’d been hit in the hip and we both bandaged the wound. ‘Abdallah and some other paramedics lifted him up and took him straight to the ambulance.
Abu Luli was taken by ambulance to a field hospital and from there to the European Hospital south of Khan Yunis, where entry and exit wounds were found in his hip. He underwent surgery and died the next day.
In his testimony, Abu Sneimah recalled:
The next day, at 4:00 A.M., Eli Suliman, Ahmad’s brother, called me to say that Ahmad had died. I went to their home to pay my respects and prepare his funeral. It was very hard for me to say goodbye to Ahmad. He was my friend. He was like a brother to me. We always hung out together. Suddenly I lost him, for no reason. He left behind a wife and five children. The eldest, Lama, is 11 and she’s blind. The youngest, Karim, is just six months old. The children have lost their father and his father lost a son. Ahmad’s mother was killed in the 2014 war. Ahmad was out of work and things were very tough for them financially. Who will care for his wife and children now? Ahmad didn’t go the demonstrations with a weapon. He didn’t do anything and wasn’t endangering the Israeli army.
The killing of paramedic ‘Abdallah Qutati
Shortly after Abu Luli was shot, some demonstrators and paramedics decided to go about 200 meters north to escape the heavy shooting. When they got there, however, the demonstrators saw not only soldiers but two tanks from machine gun rounds were being fired at the ground by the protestors.
Sabrin Qishtah stated in her testimony:
We were surprised to see two tanks and snipers on the northern side, on the sand piles and in the military tower. The tanks starting firing live rounds at the demonstrators. Some were injured and ambulances were also hit. Some of the demonstrators moved back, because of the injured people and because of the heavy fire.
At that point, bout 6:00 P.M., ‘Abdallah and I were standing with two other paramedics, Sabrin a-Satari and Raed a-Sharif, close to the demonstrators. We were about 10 meters from the concertina wire that was laid about 10 meters from the fence. Some wounded people by the fence were calling out to us for help. Sabrin and I started running towards them, with the tanks still firing. ‘Abdallah said, “Sabrin, go back! The tank’s firing in our direction!” I said: “You stay behind.” That was the last time I heard his voice.
We treated some people who’d inhaled tear gas and quickly went back. When I got back, my colleague Raed told me that ‘Abdallah was injured. Some demonstrators were standing around ‘Abdallah saying, “Martyr, martyr.” I shouted at them to lift him up quickly, because I thought that the bullet had entered his back and exited through the heart. He was bleeding very heavily.
Even while we were evacuating ‘Abdallah, massive fire continued from the tank and it was very hard for the guys carrying ‘Abdallah. They literally ran to the ambulance under a hail of bullets. Sabrin and I were stuck because of the massive fire. The ambulance took ‘Abdallah to the field clinic in the tents, where they gave him first aid and put him in an ambulance that took him to hospital. By that time I’d managed to get to the tents and went with him.
Raed a-Sharif, 19, a paramedic from a-Shaburah Refugee Camp, was standing next to Qutati when he was shot.
In testimony taken by B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 12 August 2018, he described what happened:
In the northern part there were two tanks firing heavily. Several people were injured and we went to rescue them. At that point we were 10 meters from the concertina wire. Sabrin Qishtah was ahead of us and ‘Abdallah started shouting to her to go back, because he was afraid she’d get hurt. I was standing next to him and then the Israeli snipers fired at us. One bullet hit ‘Abdallah directly. This was at 6:00 P.M. There was also heavy fire from the tanks.
When ‘Abdallah was hit, he grabbed my hand. I asked him, “What happened?” But he collapsed and fell. I realized he’d been hit and immediately saw he was bleeding. I started to look for the wound. Sabrin had got back by then and we were both in shock. We couldn’t believe that ‘Abdallah had been hit. All I could do was bandage the wound to stop the bleeding. After a few minutes, some young guys lifted him up and while the tank went on firing, took him to where the ambulances park, along the Jakar road.
My colleagues and I come to the area close to the eastern border of Gaza as volunteer paramedics. Why does the Israeli army harm us? We’re there in white uniforms, with the Ministry of Health emblem and identity tags. It’s clear that we aren’t endangering the army. All I have in my hands is first aid equipment. We’re there to help the wounded and nothing else.
Qutati, who was injured by live fire to his the chest, was taken to Yusef a-Najar Hospital in Rafah and from there to the European Hospital south of Khan Yunis, where the team attempted to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead about 40 minutes after arrival.
Since the protests by the fence began, at least 170 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 31 minors. The vast majority of those killed were not endangering the Israeli forces on the other side of the fence. In addition, more than 5,300 people have been injured by live fire. Qutati was the third paramedic to be killed by Israeli security forces during the demonstrations: Musa Abu Hasanein, 34, was shot and killed on 14 May 2018 during a demonstration east of Jabalya R.C., and Ruzan a-Najar, 20, was killed during a demonstration north of Khuza’ah.
These fatalities and injuries are a direct outcome of the open-fire policy that Israel has implemented since the protests began. The lethal results of this policy are well known, and further evidence the indifference shown by the Israeli authorities toward the killing and injuring of Palestinians. Were this not the case, Israel would long ago have amended its open-fire policy and stopped firing at unarmed demonstrators endangering no one, on the other side of the fence. This policy is proven unconscionable time and again, as the military continues to implement it without change. It is also supported by the military’s whitewashing systems, which ensure in almost every case that no-one is held accountable for the killing of Palestinians.