Shebab vs the Wall at the Erez Crossing

on 18 Comments
Shebob vs The Wall Erez
Young Palestinian men throwing stones at the Erez crossing in Gaza (Photo: Johnny Barber)

On March 30, 1976, the Palestinian people declared a general strike and demonstrated against the Israeli confiscation of thousands of acres of land in the Galilee. The Israeli’s responded with violence, killing six unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and injuring hundreds. Every year Land Day is commemorated in Palestine in remembrance of those who would rise up to protect their land.

On this Land Day, I was at Erez Crossing. Several hundred youth had managed to find their way around the Hamas policemen blocking the roads leading to Erez. At the crossing, they moved to within two hundred yards of the Israeli gate. There they found their path blocked by rows of concertina wire across the road. The shabab set fire to tires in the roadway and threw stones towards the Israeli wall, most falling into the roadway, well short of their target. Intermittently and without warning, the Israeli occupation forces open fire on the stone throwers. Each volley consists of one to three shots, and with each volley, young men fall. Others immediately retrieve them. Dozens of youth mob the wounded. Somehow they manage to carry them through the crowd and load them onto motorcycles where they are ferried to the Palestinian side of the crossing to waiting ambulances.

I wonder about the young soldiers, picking their targets amongst the crowd and firing, like shooting fish in a barrel. I remember in 2002, the head of the IAF, Dan Hurlitz was asked what it felt like releasing a bomb over Gaza, and he said, “No. That is not a legitimate question and it is not asked. But if you nevertheless want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all. That is what I feel.” I disagree with Hurlitz on this point. In any caring world this is a completely legitimate question. It is the answer that rings of illegitimacy. It is the answer of a sociopath. I wonder if this dehumanization trickles down to the soldiers opposite us. I wonder what they feel.

And I wonder about the young stone throwers, completely exposed to the guns of the Israelis, knowing full well someone is going to be shot.

Shebob Resting Erez
Shebab resting at Erez (Photo: Johnny Barber)

As the latest injury drives off on the back of a wobbly motorcycle, the shabab turn back to the wall and hurl a barrage of stones. Some grab on to the concertina wire and begin pulling it away from the road. I wait for the crack of the M-16’s and look to the front to see who has fallen. “We are going to Jerusalem, millions of martyrs” the shabab chant, and the shouts ring out “Allahu Akbar!” Some young men, blood covered, reach in and try to help each new casualty, others sit on the sidelines, taunting the newly injured, mimicking their cries as they are carried off.

In the moment, i am overwhelmed with the futility of throwing stones at a concrete barrier as the Israelis methodically pick people from the crowd and shoot them.

At the mourning tent of the only fatality that day, Mahmoud Zaqout, who would be 20 years old on April 19th, I speak to his father, Mohamed and his cousin, Nizar Zaqout.

Mohamed said he was proud of his son, the sixth son of seven boys. He says he was a quiet child, a loving child, and though he was soon to be twenty, he was still a child.

  Mahmoud Zaqout’s cousin Nizar, holding the flag. (Photo: Johnny Barber)

Mahmoud’s cousin, Nizar, who was at Mahmoud’s side at Erez, hobbles over to us on crutches, to talk about the moments leading up to Mahmoud’s death. They had traveled to Erez with two friends. They carried a Palestinian flag. Nizar tells us Mahmoud had a premonition of his impending death, and prior to entering the crossing he stopped to pray. They decided to move forward and place the Palestinian flag on the gate. In order to do this they would need to move the razor wire blocking the road and they began pulling on it. Israeli soldiers, crouching behind concrete blocks signaled to them as if to say, “What are you doing, you’ll see what happens.” On seeing the soldiers the two friends retreat. Mahmoud and Nizar continued pulling on the wire, determined to place the flag at the gate. Nizar said the soldiers signaled them with thumbs up. Shots rang out. Nizar and Mahmoud turned and ran. Nizar saw the blood on Mahmoud’s neck, after a few steps, Mahmoud collapsed in Nizar’s arms. Nizar carried his cousin back to the crowd of Palestinian youth. He held his hand over the wound as they were loaded onto a motorcycle. When they reached the ambulance, an attendant pointed to Nizar’s bleeding thigh. He had been shot as well.

I asked Nizar what he felt as he faced the soldiers. He said they were prepared to hang the flag on the gate or be shot. He spoke of his family’s history of resistance, the loss of an uncle during Cast Lead, and his determination to fight. “Even today, I want to pray in Jerusalem. This is our right. Since we were born Mahmoud and I have protested the Israelis.”

Someone handed Nizar a blood stained flag. The blood was Mahmoud’s. Nizar held the flag close to his cheek, breathing deeply. Breathing in the blood stained cloth, Mahmoud, his lost uncles, and all the sorrow and loss of Palestine, Nizar paused. He said, “Mahmoud could not place the flag at the gate. I will. Or my children will. We will continue to resist until we win our rights. Mahmoud’s blood will not be wasted. Hundreds will take his place. We will fight for our rights, for our children, we will fight until we get our land back.”

“The occupiers want us to forget about our land, and about Jerusalem, by turning our focus on our troubles- no jobs, no cooking fuel, no power, no gasoline, but we will not forget. My family is a family of resistance. My uncles have been killed, they’ve been to prison. They died for Jerusalem. Everyone around you here may die for Jerusalem. We are proud to do this.” Nizar exclaims. I turn and look at all the young faces surrounding us, listening intently.

As we get up to take our leave, Nizar asks where I am from. When I answer America, he says some in Gaza view America as the enemy. He said he appreciates my presence because it was critical to inform Americans about what is happening in Gaza.

This is what is happening in Gaza. The 36th anniversary of Land Day has come and gone. Israeli soldiers shot two young men, armed only with a flag, from point blank range. Over the course of the day, they shot dozens of young men, all armed with nothing more than stones. While I stood in Erez Crossing, no tear gas or other methods of crowd dispersal was employed. No warning shots were fired. Every shot hit flesh. American media does not find the story newsworthy. Nakba Day, “The Catastrophe”, is next, on May 15th. The youth will return to Erez. How many will be shot? Will the world take note?

In Gaza, the resistance remains, and is carried by the youth. I realize the struggle is not futile, Palestinians resist with what they have. They are not taught to hate, they are taught to demand their rights and stand for freedom.

Mohamed says, “For these demonstrations all the young men go, we do not stop them, it is their struggle. I am proud that Mahmoud went to the front of the crowd. We resist as our grandfathers did.” He says these words so quietly I can hear his heart breaking.

About Johnny Barber

Johnny Barber has traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza & Afghanistan to witness and document the suffering of people affected by war advocating reconciliation and nonviolent strategies in the face of violence and oppression. and

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18 Responses

  1. Refaat
    April 4, 2012, 10:44 am

    The chaps ‘Shebab’ are At least 300 metres away from the nearest heavily armoured israeli soldiers. Yet, israel felt threatened to the extent it killed 1 and injured 30.
    Good job israel, good job.

  2. dimadok
    April 4, 2012, 12:03 pm

    At first I thought there was no warning, then as the tale unfolds, soldiers were waiving with their hands and showing thumbs up?
    Anyhow, we you are approaching military installation, placed on the sovereign land, with wrongful intent-you’ll be shot. Period-no warning, no negotiations and no BS. That is how I and other soldiers were and still are trained.
    Mind you, Hamas police knows that very well, since they were trying to prevent those”kids” on going closer to the crossing. Also these “kids” are within the same age as the IDF soldiers, but somehow are considered ‘innocent” whereas every IDF regular soldier is always sinister and brainwashed.

    • Woody Tanaka
      April 4, 2012, 1:01 pm

      You really didn’t read it, did you. The article clearly states, “Intermittently and without warning, the Israeli occupation forces open fire on the stone throwers.”
      These Israeli gunmen reminded me of Amon Göth from the film Schinder’s List, randomly murdering unarmed people. Oh, what a state, to raise a generation of Göths, as Israel has.

      “placed on the sovereign land, ”

      It’s their land. You people stole it.

      If you’d read the article you would see that these freedom fighters were no where near the crossing, but were hundreds of yards away and incapable of doing anything other than symbolically protest. They bravely protested, while the typically sniveling cowardly little occupying punks randomly murdered them.

      “Also these ‘kids’ are within the same age as the IDF soldiers, but somehow are considered ‘innocent’ whereas every IDF regular soldier is always sinister and brainwashed.”

      The Palestinians were throwing stones, the Jews were murdering in cold blood with military weapons. So, yes, the IOF triggermen, like all of you zionists, are brainwashed or otherwise defective in your thinking. You and those who bore you couldn’t wash your hands in the blood of innocent children for generations if it wasn’t so.

      • dimadok
        April 4, 2012, 5:01 pm

        The went to die-bravely or not, they knew what’s coming their way. Sometime looking for a death is a sign of desperation but for what I know, it can be also the sign of stupidity.

      • kalithea
        April 4, 2012, 7:17 pm

        Oh God, please let everyone who views individuals who resist a brutal occupation and are waging a courageous battle for their rights as “stupid” be reincarnated next time around as slaves to this same kind of brutality with zero rights for generations while people like “dim” call them stupid.

      • Woody Tanaka
        April 5, 2012, 8:55 am

        They were brave freedom fighters, fighting to rid their land of a foreign fascist cancer. Like the millions who died in the last century fighting fascists. May the current day fascists end up as the last-century fascists did.

    • kalithea
      April 4, 2012, 7:27 pm

      “military installation, placed on the sovereign land” Oh the wall and buffer zone is on sovereignnnnn…land, is it? YEAH! PALESTINIAN LAND!


      “At first I thought…”

      Really?????????? That’s what you call it? Your thought process resulted in that pile of manure?

  3. Annie Robbins
    April 4, 2012, 12:38 pm

    heartbreaking heartbreaking

  4. rensanceman
    April 4, 2012, 1:00 pm

    Dimadok. Not sure this is real person or the devil incarnate judging by the content of the comment. To justify the killing of Palestinian youths armed only with rocks because they were approaching “sovereign” territory is a testament to the moral depravity that is the result of the Occupation. It is not difficult to imagine why Israel is concerned about its security when it committs such atrocities which inflame each new generation of Palestinians but perversely perpetuates the narrative that Israel is in a “tough neighborhood” and must take all necessary steps to protect itself (I.e, from 18 year old rock throwers approaching sovereign territory- a concrete wall surrounded by concertina wire).

  5. kalithea
    April 4, 2012, 1:04 pm

    Let me repeat: these Jews who believe they’re entitled to this land should question why God threw the Palestinians in their way. No doubt the only answer their limited brain came up with is: to improve their target practice. And some wonder why my commentary is so scathing…

    If anything, Zionists should at the least be prosecuted for the crime of creating such an ugly skyline in the “promised” land, but then everything about Zionism is real UGLY.

  6. Mayhem
    April 4, 2012, 9:04 pm

    What a frightful word ‘shebab’ to use for the children attacking at the Gaza border. This word connotes al-Shabaab which is a Somali-based terrorist cell of al-Qaida. Having young children involved is blatant propaganda opportunism, and begs the question as to why such young children are permitted by their families to put themselves in the firing line.If they are harmed (very likely when they are ripping away at barbed wire on the border), this provides delectable fodder for the Israel demonizers.

    • Djinn
      April 7, 2012, 1:55 am

      Mayhem the word isn’t frightful at all, what it “connotes” to ignorant people is really of no import. Also as the IDF enforce a “buffer” zone INSIDE Gaza (officially 300 metres but in reality much more) getting shot at is not confined to those occasionally protesting at Erez. It happens if you happen to stray “too close” just going about your daily business. No-one needs to demonise Israeli forces they do a damn good job of that themselves when they use lethal force against people demonstrating ON THEIR OWN LAND.

    • gamal
      April 7, 2012, 7:18 am

      “What a frightful word ‘shebab’ to use for the children attacking at the Gaza border.”

      what a frightful word “men” is when used in other contexts, the word of course “connotes” the “minute-men” that racist organization affiliated with the US government.

      “al-Shabaab which is a Somali-based terrorist cell of al-Qaida.”

      al-qaida in the horn of plenty, its clear consumption of propaganda leads to precipitate loss of IQ points.

      There is actually an interesting aside here, the Israelis have so humiliated the parents that the 1st intifada was also a revolt against the quietism of the older generation who have little or no authority over the youth, as a result of their inability to resist zionist colonization, you want the kids to respect their elders perhaps you should show them how.

      There is no border just a prison wall, “blatant propaganda opportunism” its a struggle for freedom, but hey who cares “shebab” just means the guys obviously but then you knew that, idiot.

      zionism above all is so boring and idiotic, like all colonial ideologies it relies on racist grotesqueries, so what do the guys have to accept while they live rightless under the zionist jackboot, oh yes a “jewish” state on their land and an aparthied system in their own homes, reasonable to some perhaps. all depends on how you look at it, as officer Coon (which connotes what) said of the Rodney King beating.

  7. [email protected]
    April 5, 2012, 2:20 am

    Correction to Mayem: The barbed wire is not on the border. As you see in the first photograph the barbed wire is some distance in front of one row of wall barriers with another wall of barriers behind. In other words they are quite a distance from the actual border.

    This is the “buffer zone” (on the Palestinian side of course) where IOF soldiers are free to shoot and kill Gazans who have NOT crossed the border but are still well within Gaza. They are at the border of the border. And STILL the Israeli soldiers are free to shoot and kill them for throwing stones and insults. “The only democracy in the Middle East” …… hmmmmm.

    It’s a measure of the arrogance, cowardice and sense of impunity that Israeli soldiers can shoot and kill these youth without worrying.

    I suppose the Hamas government prevented the large crowds from going to the barbed wire because the Israelis told Hamas they would do just what they did to this small number of youth: shoot, kill and wound. Hamas chose not to offer that much blood to make a point which most of the world already can see.

  8. joec
    April 5, 2012, 10:00 pm

    1. Kudos to Johnny for his great report from the front!

    2. To all commentators referencing an alleged “border”: There’s none there. There’s an apartheid wall, manned by gunners and artillery units, preventing refugees and other Palestinians from accessing the great majority of their country. But the supposed “border” of the so-called “Gaza Strip” has no more legitimacy than the lines separating another apartheid unit, the “Republic of Bophuthatswana,” from the rest of South Africa.

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