Despite the fact Yousef Abu Eida, 26, was shot in the leg last Friday during the Great March of Return in Abu Safia, he was back today using crutches and a metal brace.
Abu Eida, who studies law in al-Azahar University, said: “I came today despite the pain and weight of the device that breaks into my bones, to send two messages, the first is that I will not give up the right of my return to my occupied town ‘Ashdod’ and another message to the Israeli sniper that we are not afraid of him.”
What distinguished the second Friday of the Great March of Return was the extent to which protests got close from the border fence; they were much closer than last Friday. It was the smoke from the burning tires that helped the protesters.
Abu Eida was not the only one who participated today despite injuries. Momen Shehada, 18, came in a wheelchair with his mother pushing him.
His mother Suheir, 37, told me, “My son insisted on participating in the march today. I refused at first because he still suffers from his injury last Friday. But in the end, we compromised that I’ll be with him today.”
Momen, who is a football player, was injured last Friday in both his legs, but he believes that his will will help him recover quickly and return to his hobby of playing football.
Blocking the Snipers’ Vision
It seems the protesters learned a lesson from last Friday. During the last week they positioned thousands of tires in borders area to avoid Israeli snipers’ scopes.
Today, in Rafah, protesters were able to get closer to the fence in all march areas. The Israeli soldiers withdrew from their positions near Rafah when the smoke blocked the area. Al Jazeera reported this was due to them fearing an attack or kidnapping attempt by the protesters.
Almost 100 meters away from six Israeli soldiers hiding behind the sand hills, two brothers — Mahmoud and Mohammed Abu Azam — were sitting behind a hill of tires eating their breakfast. I asked to join them for a short interview.
Mahmoud told me, “This Friday is more successful that the last Friday. We succeeded in lowering the numbers of injuries and martyrs because the smoke blocked the vision of Israeli snipers.”
Mohammed said, laughing, “Protesters are very close to the soldiers, and they can’t see us as they’re blind.”
According to Ashraf al-Qedra, the spokesman of the Ministry of Health, as for now three protesters were killed while more than 250 were injured in today’s protests. This figure is a quarter of the numbers from last Friday where 17 were killed and more than 1,500 were injured.
Last Friday morning, Mohammed Asfour, 46, carried a Palestinian flag with his tent as his family of seven made their way to Abu Safia hill, which is about 900 meters away from the border fence with Israel, to participate in the peaceful March of Return that was organized in the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of land’s day.
Asfour found it difficult to find a place for his family to set up as thousands of Palestinians were there to participate.
After finally setting up his tent, Asfour created a poster featuring the name his family’s original town, Deir Sneid, and told me, “Today I came here with my family to prove that we adhere to our right of return and this right can’t be negotiable, even if it caused martyrs to defend our lands. We have to return.”
Yousra Asfour, Mohammed’s wife, was originally against the idea of participating in the march, as she was afraid of Israeli violence, but her husband convinced her to participate by telling her that “it a duty for all Palestinians to support the refugees’ cause.” Once she was there she changed her mind. “I was expecting to see fear in people’s eyes when they watch Israeli soldiers behind the sand hills hundreds of meters away from us,” she told me. “But when I saw how people are happy and excited to participate, all the fear disappeared and turned to feeling proud for being part of this march.”
The Israeli Sniper
Last Friday, I started my tour of the Great March of Return encampments in the Abu Safia area in northern Gaza; where Palestinians from all political parties held the Palestinian flag and chanted national slogans and lined up to perform the Friday prayer in groups. During their prayer an Israeli sniper shot towards them in a random and intermittent manner.
After the prayer, the participants started to go towards the border fence, 500 meters away from the Israeli soldiers; and it was here where the peaceful Friday started to turn into a bloody one.
In the first half hour, around 50 young man were injured. However, the protesters didn’t leave. Women, elderly, children, and youth were present in the field.
When the Israeli shooting started, some youth started to set fire to tires to confuse the snipers with the smoke.
One of the youth, who was collecting tires, I wasn’t able to get his name, was targeted directly by the Israeli sniper. The young man started to run, and he was shot multiple times. In the meantime, he was able to catch a tire which seemed to have provoked the sniper who continued to fire.
As has been documented in a video that has since gone viral worldwide, another young man tried to help his friend in holding the tire and running away. It was at this moment that the Israeli sniper shot him and he was killed immediately.
It turned out that the young man who was killed was Abdel Fattah Abdel Nabi, age 18, from Jabalia camp. I just happened to witness this horrible moment.
Abdel Nabi was a plumber, his father Bahjat, 47, told me. “Me and my four sons decided to participate in the mass return march to demand for our right of return to our village ‘Simsim’. Abdel Fattah was a little bit late; as he had some work to do and when he finished he followed us. It was 2:30 when he arrived, and after half an hour he was killed,” he explained.
Talking about his son, Bahjat said, “Abdel Fattah was a hard-working person, I was not able to afford his university fees, and he decided to learn plumbing to make his living. He started to work when he was 16, he loved buying clothes and smart phones. He loved life and had many dreams to achieve.”
Bahjat ended his speech hoping that the video that documented the moment of killing his son maybe used to file a criminal case against the Israeli sniper.
Mohammed Ayash and the Onion Mask
Last week, I left Abu Safia and headed south to the Malaka area in the eastern Zaytoun neighborhood that is around 1,000 meters away from the Nahal Oz military site. The scene there was very similar to what I witnessed in the north, but there were many more participants, injured, and martyrs. The clashes with Israelis were also closer; some youth were only 100 meters away from the fence.
The area was full of tear gas, while the participants were more crowded than in the northern area, which is why organizers of the march called Malaka the center of the march.
Despite the sadness of losing the martyrs, there was a funny situation that attracted every one, the child Mohammed Ayash, 9, was wearing a mask with an onion stuck in it to avoid the impacts of the Israeli tear gas bombs.
I talked to the child, asking him why he’s wearing the mask, he said: “I was inspired by the stories my father used to tell me about his participation in the first Intifada.”
“I’m not afraid from Israeli soldiers or their weapons. I’m here to ask for our right in our land. It’s our land not their land,” the child said.
When I asked him why he was not afraid of Israeli soldiers, he said, “I’m here with my father and cousin, they’re brave and not afraid, they encouraged me the most.”
Arash’s family lives in al-Maghzi camp in the middle of Gaza. The child has since become an icon on social media after his photo was published widely.
The Green Ambulance
The intensity of clashes last week, and the increased number of injuries, led to a very difficult situation where it took around 20 minutes to reach ambulances because of the bumpy road. Some of the martyrs died as a result of late treatment.
Ismael al-Athamna, 42, decided to use his tractor as a faster way to move the injured and martyrs from area of the clashes to the ambulance cars.
Al-Athaman is a freed prisoner and has been injured since the first Intifada. He told me, “I couldn’t handle the screaming of injured youth who were calling for help and paramedics were not able to reach them because of the sandy nature of the place.”
Al-Athamna became a link between protesters and ambulances for any emergencies. He moved around 50 injured protesters on his tractor.
The tractor didn’t survive Israeli bullets however. A bullet punctured a wheel, but he didn’t stop moving people.
Al-Athaman ensured that he’ll keep participating in the Great March of Return activities next Fridays after he fixed his tractor.
Activities with the Great March of Return will continue every Friday and until the the anniversary of Nakba on May 15th.