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'Omar Abu a-Nil, shot in the neck by soldiers, being carried to an ambulance. Photo: 'Abd a-Rahim Khatib
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Israeli security forces fatally shoot ‘Omar Abu a-Nil (13) standing dozens of meters from Gaza perimeter fence during protest

‘Omar Abu a-Nil. Photo courtesy of family
‘Omar Abu a-Nil. Photo courtesy of family

On Saturday, 21 August 2021, a demonstration was held near the perimeter fence east of Gaza city, marking the 52nd anniversary of the al-Aqsa Mosque arson attack. The barrier, which Israel has been expanding in recent years, is reportedly made of a concrete wall starting dozens of meters underground. Above ground, in that area, it consists of a concrete wall several meters high topped by a metal fence. During the demonstration, some of the protesters burned tires, threw stones, and hurled explosives at members of the Israeli security forces standing on the other side of the fence, who fired live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, and tear gas canisters at them, injuring 41 protesters, including 22 minors, according to figures provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Two of the wounded died in the following days — Osama D'eij (31), a Hamas military wing operative from Jabalya Refugee Camp, died of his wounds on 25 August 2021, and ‘Omar Abu a-Nil (13) from Gaza City died of his wounds on 28 August 2021. Two days later, Bar’el Hadaria Shmueli (21), an Israeli Border Police officer from Be’er Yaakov who was shot during the demonstration by a Palestinian standing on the other side of the fence, died of his wounds.

On the day of the demonstration, Abu a-Nil came to the area in the afternoon. At around 5:30 P.M., he went up to a distance of about 100 meters from the fence. While standing and watching the protest, he was hit by a live bullet in the neck. Abu a-Nil was taken by other protesters to an ambulance that took him to a-Shifaa Hospital, where he was treated until his death on 28 August 2021.

Abu a-Nil is the 226th person killed in demonstrations near the Gaza perimeter fence since the March of Return protests began in March 2018, and the 48th minor. Israeli security forces' open-fire policy, which permits the use of live fire against protesters, the vast majority of whom are unarmed and who do not pose a risk to the well-protected forces on the other side of the fence, is unlawful and unjustified. Nevertheless, and despite the hundreds of people killed and thousands wounded by live fire, Israel continues to implement this lethal policy, which is likely to kill or injure many other Palestinian protesters.

Abu a-Nil’s neighbor, Anas al-Ghafri (18), arrived at the demonstration at around 3:30 P.M. About an hour and a half later he advanced to a distance of about 100 meters from the fence, where Abu a-Nil joined him some 20 minutes later.

In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 31 August 2021, al-Ghafri recounted: :

About 20 minutes after I went towards the fence, my neighbor ‘Omar Abu a-Nil arrived at 5:30 and stood next to me. ‘Omar asked me, “Why are you afraid to go down?” I slapped him and told him to go back. He didn’t and even went a few more meters towards the fence while eating sunflower seeds. Suddenly, I saw him fall to the ground. I thought he’d tripped, but then I saw young guys and teens crowding around him and that he was bleeding. When they picked him up, I saw entry and exit wounds in his neck.

About 20 minutes after I went towards the fence, my neighbor ‘Omar Abu a-Nil arrived at 5:30 and stood next to me. ‘Omar asked me, “Why are you afraid to go down?” I slapped him and told him to go back. He didn’t and even went a few more meters towards the fence while eating sunflower seeds. Suddenly, I saw him fall to the ground. I thought he’d tripped, but then I saw young guys and teens crowding around him and that he was bleeding. When they picked him up, I saw entry and exit wounds in his neck.

The young guys took him to an ambulance, and I rode with him. On the way to a-Shifaa Hospital, he was resuscitated and given first aid. I called ‘Omar’s uncle and told him he’d been wounded. When we got there, they put ‘Omar in the ICU and tried to resuscitate him. Then his family arrived, and his father blacked out when he saw his son in the ICU. I stayed at the hospital until 10:00 P.M. and then went home.

A.Z. (36), a resident of Gaza City, went to the demonstration in the afternoon to document it as part of his work as a freelance photographer. In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 28 September 2021, he described what happened:

During the demonstration, hundreds of young men, teens, and children approached the fence to throw stones at the occupation forces. They pulled at the fence’s net and damaged it and then burned tires. The soldiers fired tear gas canisters, followed by warning shots in the air. When the stone-throwing intensified, the soldiers fired live rounds at the protesters. I saw two protesters wounded by the shooting and others suffocating from the gas.

While I was standing and filming the protesters, I saw a teen fall to the ground in front of me, about 30 to 40 meters away from me towards the fence and about 100 meters from the fence. The young men picked him up right away and took him to an ambulance. I was in shock and didn’t manage to take his picture. He was hit in the neck and bleeding. I followed the young men who had taken him to find out how he was doing, and then he was taken to the hospital.

I went back to the demonstration for a while, and saw my friend ‘Assem Shhadeh get hit in the right side of his jaw by shrapnel and fall. I took his picture. Meanwhile, I heard shots from our side towards the fence. It sounded like a handgun. Then I left the area.

In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 31 August 2021, ‘Omar’s mother, Iman (40), spoke about her son and his time in hospital:

אימאן אבו א-ניל עם חפציו של בנה. צילום: אולפת אל-כורד, בצלם, 31.8.21
Iman Abu a-Nil with her son's belongings. Photo by Olfat al-Kurd, B'Tselem, 31 August 2021

When I heard ‘Omar has been injured at the demonstration, I was at home. I thought he’d gone to the club in the afternoon because he’d never gone to demonstrations by the fence before. I went up to my sister-in-law’s apartment and collapsed on the floor, screaming. My sister-in-law and her daughter hugged me and helped me get home. I got dressed and went to my parents’ house, and from there continued to a-Shifaa Hospital.

When I got to the hospital, I asked about ‘Omar at the desk and was told he’d been hit in the leg and that he was having minor surgery. I went up to the operating rooms and found my husband Hassan there with red, teary eyes. He couldn’t tell me how ‘Omar was doing. I immediately realized he hadn’t been injured in the leg. My husband told me he’d been hit in the shoulder, and I told him the injury was more serious. I felt weak and couldn’t stand the bad news, and started praying to Allah for strength. I stood on the operating room steps and waited. I didn’t talk to anyone. I was in shock and couldn’t even cry.

At around 10:00 P.M., ‘Omar came out of surgery and was transferred, unconscious, to the ICU. The doctor left the room with a grim, hopeless expression. I asked my husband to tell our children that ‘Omar was in a bad state, so the news of his death wouldn’t shock them. I went home, hoping that the next day I’d come and find ‘Omar awake and in a better condition.

The next day, I came to the hospital around midday and found 'Omar in the same state. The doctors told me he could maybe wake up in two days. We were constantly on edge, afraid of any phone call that might announce his passing.

On Tuesday, 24 August 2021, at 9:00 A.M., I got a call from the hospital asking me to come and be present while ‘Omar underwent a CT. I went happily, because I thought it meant there was good news about his condition and that he’d woken up. But the tests showed there was no blood flow to the brain and that ‘Omar was in a state of clinical death. I collapsed to the floor and prayed to Allah.

On Saturday, 28 August 2021, at around 1:00 A.M., we were informed that Omar had passed away. I went back to the hospital to say goodbye to him and hug him after he was disconnected from the machines. I hugged him, kissed him and touched his little body as I cried. I didn’t shed tears, but my heart wept. I went home without ‘Omar, forever.

‘Omar was the pillar of our home. He was the living spirit of the house, and suddenly, we lost him. He was my pampered baby, and we were very close. He only managed to attend four days of ninth grade before he was injured. In my heart, he’s still with us in the house, and his soul doesn’t leave me for a moment. When we eat, I look at his chair and say to myself that he’s still with us. My daughter Malek (6) asks where he is, and I say he’s gone to heaven.