Yousef al-Kurnz lost a leg covering Gaza’s Great Return March but is not giving up his dream of becoming a photojournalist

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“Basketball is my favorite sport and sometimes I like to play football with my friends in our neighborhood. I am a fitness trainer too. But I don’t know if I will be ever able to play sports again!”

Yousef al-Kurnz, a 20-year-old Gazan photojournalist, lost his left leg after being hit with an explosive bullet from an Israeli sniper while he was covering the Great Return March. It was March 30, the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, and protesters were peacefully marking it as they called for enforcement of paragraph 11 of UN resolution 194, which endorses the right of Palestinians to return to their ancestral homeland.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women, children and the elderly participated that day, representing all political parties and sectors of civil society. Among them were Yousef and two of his fellow journalists; the border is just 1,000 meters away from his house.

“The first thing I did when I arrived was to put on the ‘press’ vest and slip my journalist ID card in my bag,” he recalls. “We were very careful not to go close to the security fence, just to be on the safe side.”

However, that didn’t protect him. At approximately 14:15 (2:15 p.m.), when Yousef was photographing the protesters about 750 meters from the security “fence,” he was hit with a 16-millimeter bullet in his left leg, knocking him down with its force. When Yousef tried to stand up, the sniper fired a second bullet into his right leg. He could no longer stand.

Yousef al-Kurnz

“I didn’t feel much pain when I was shot in my left leg; the Israeli used a silencer weapon and my friends didn’t even notice I was wounded,” he recalls. “But when the sniper shot my right leg, I felt my entire body trembling like electricity was running through it. I shouted, throwing down my camera.”

Yousef was rushed by ambulance to the closest hospital, where he was admitted to intensive care. Despite the lack of sufficiently equipped medical facilities in Gaza, Yusouf was at first refused an Israeli permit to travel out through the Erez crossing. The Rafah crossing into Egypt was closed.

After three days, his doctors decided they had no choice but to amputate his left leg. Two Palestinian-rights advocacy organizations filed an appeal with Israel’s High Court, demanding an urgent permit. Four days later, Yousef finally was allowed to travel to Ramallah to try to save his right leg. (The Adalah and Al-Mezan human rights organizations also appealed for an exit permit for Mohammad al-Ajouri, 17. However, Mohammed was shot in one leg only. His wounded leg already had been amputated by the time of the court hearing, so the permit was not granted.) The court made it clear in its ruling that Yousef’s was an exceptional case, due to the urgent need for treatment, and its ruling would have no bearing on future transfers of patients from Gaza to the West Bank.

“I don’t regret that I went to the demonstration,” says Yousef, who is studying montage and design at university and now is in his freshman year. “I am so proud of my work, I will succeed and I will achieve my dream to be a famous photographer. I still have two hands to hold my camera with.”

Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said that at the time of publication, 33 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli snipers during the Great Return March, including three minors, and another 4,279 have been injured (642 minors and 243 women). Of those, 1,539 were shot with live bullets; 14 have lost legs and four had arms amputated. Yousef was among nine journalists who was shot; one—Yasser Murtaja—died of his wounds.

This post was originally published on the We Are Not Numbers website on April 19, 2018.

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Thank you Karama Fadel, Abeer Abu al-Naja, and Yousef al-Kurnz.

How is it even possible to smile so gently, kindly, and brilliantly after all that you’ve endured and are enduring, Yousef? It must be the Palestinian in you and your inherent Sumud… I will always be privileged to be in solidarity with you and your millions of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, and grands.

Keep the faith.

An update: “Israeli soldiers open fire on Gaza protesters fourth week in a row Israeli forces reportedly kill at least four protesters and wound over 400 as thousands of Palestinians participate in Gaza Return March demonstrations on Friday. Update: 7:10 pm Palestinian and Israeli media reporting that four Palestinians have been killed during today’s protests in Gaza, among them a 15-year-old boy. The Palestinian Ministry of Health is reporting that 445 people have been wounded… Read more »

“Half of the more than 500 patients we have admitted in our clinics have injuries where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone”, said Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, Head of Mission of MSF in Palestine. “These patients will need to have very complex surgical operations and most of them will have disabilities for life.” Managing these injuries is very difficult. Apart from regular nursing care, patients will often need additional surgery, and undergo… Read more »

“Two Palestinian-rights advocacy organizations filed an appeal with Israel’s High Court, demanding an urgent permit. Four days later, Yousef finally was allowed to travel to Ramallah to try to save his right leg.”

Urgent, and four days later. I imagine the high court went out for drinks after that swift decision. Bastards.

Today’s update in Electronic Intifada on casualties in Gaza: Israel kills child and crushes bones in Gaza Why not an update today in Mondoweiss on the carnage in Gaza, “compliments” of Zionist Israel: four murdered, including a 15-year-old and several hundred wounded yesterday, bringing the total to at least 41 murdered and several thousand wounded and injured in Gaza’s Great March of Return. Also, Mondoweiss, why don’t you post these photos (see below) to… Read more »