“We are stones standing in front of bullets”.
That’s how 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar explained the situation to us last April regarding the unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the ground facing Israeli snipers from across the fence.
In the first two weeks since the March of Great Return kicked off, Razan had already escaped death and serious injury numerous times.
She recalled how Israeli soldiers had shot directly at her more than once, threatening her to back off from reaching the wounded.
She felt a bullet narrowly miss her head and another time, a bullet flew past her leg, while she was tending to demonstrators near the fence, on the field which had turned into a shooting range.
We were preparing a feature article about Palestinian women who were at the forefront of the protests and the topic naturally lead us to Razan – a young lady with an immense love for her nation and a steadfast determination to fight for freedom and for women’s rights.
As she sat down in the living room in her humble home located in an alley in Khan Younis not far from the border, she at first seemed indifferent to our presence and in a hurry.
Later we learned that she had come back from the field and wanted to return as soon as possible.
She was spending 13 hours each day volunteering on the field and was in charge of leading groups of 164 volunteer medics, which she had brought together.
As she began to recount instances of saving the wounded stuck near the border, her eccentricities and wild courage shone through.
“Soldiers tried to kill me so many times,” Razan explained. “I received some information that I’m targeted by the Israeli army and that I have to stay away from the field because of my activities [tending to the injured] but I ignore all of that.”
During a Friday protest last April, as Razan ran to help an injured demonstrator, an Israeli soldier threatened her that if she made a single move forward, she would end up dead. But she ignored him and without hesitation, ran to help the demonstrator.
As each Friday passed with more bloodshed, each member of Razan’s medical group of eight nurses were all hit and injured by pulverizing explosive bullets or by tear gas bombs.
So far Razan had luckily been unscathed from the bullets, but she had fainted numerous times due to tear gas exposure, broke her wrist after running down the field to help an injured demonstrator and was hit in the face by a gas bomb.
Attending the demonstrations is risky, even if one is labeled a paramedic or journalist.
Many have been shot when they least expected it – during a lull in protesting for instance, when people were simply loitering and no tyres were even being burnt.
Paramedics have recounted instances of being intentionally targeted, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
But the gruesome injuries and brutal deaths that she witnessed didn’t break her down with feelings of hopelessness or despair; instead it fueled her with even more strength and determination.
Anas had tried to persuade Razan to be more careful while working (for instance not to rush near the border when a protester is wounded and to wait for other staff to come first), but Razan found his advice silly and jokingly called him a wimp.
In another attempt to shake her firm belief of immediately rushing to rescue a demonstrator, he tried to persuade her of how great studying nursing in Germany would be (a wish of hers she had expressed earlier).
But Razan’s answer was succinct.
“I’m a sacrifice for my nation,” Razan said regarding her presence at the demonstrations. “I’m always going be there for my country and home.
“It’s my duty and responsibility to be there and aid those injured.”
She recounted more of what she saw:
“Yesterday (April 16) after I left the field, three wounded protesters were stuck near the border and the Israelis prevented the ambulance from reaching them. The Israeli army was going crazy and started to shell the place around them. I received a call from people telling me that they were stuck and wounded, so I headed back to the border and rescued them without hesitation.
“I won’t ever forget 18-year-old Tahrir Abu Sabla. He was shot by Israeli snipers and is now in the ICU. He’s a person with a disability (deaf). I was several meters away from him. I was calling out his name to see if he’s okay or not but I forgot that he couldn’t hear me, so I approached him. When I came near him, he fell down. He was killed by a bullet to the head,” Razan recounted.
With sadness in her eyes, she said her heart breaks when she sees many boys taking their last breath in front of her. One of them passed his will on to her by saying: “Take care of my mother and my brothers, Razan, please Razan!”
Ever since Razan was a child, she dreamed of becoming a doctor and of achieving something great.
As she didn’t have the financial resources to attend university to study nursing, she took first aid and nursng courses on her own, accumulating over 200 hours.
When the March of Great Return kicked off on March 30, Razan was the first female nurse to arrive promptly at 7 a.m.
She wasted no time in creating tests for medical volunteers to complete to evaluate their knowledge, in order for the demonstrations to have only the most experienced medical team to help them.
“I want to be the greatest nurse in the highest rank in the whole world,” Razan said.
In difficult environments such as Gaza, young men and women often hesitant and speak modestly when they talk about their ambitions.
They seek dreams within what’s “realistic and possible” in fear of later frustrations, or to avoid the judgment of classifying their dreams as ” clichés” or too big.
But Razan was different. She was confident, great and so were her dreams. When she talked about her dreams, she said it with the confidence and faith of someone who’d already made his dreams come true.
“I want to prove to the world that we (women) are socially active and that we play a big role in the community… the power that I have will make me famous one day. I want to be a great nurse, who everyone knows of. The power that we have, even mountains can’t break down,” Razan said.
Israeli forces killed Razan, but they couldn’t kill the Palestinian resistance, the fight for freedom and the right of return, which Razan embodied.
Razan’s spirit will live on and the cause will continue, despite the odds, “stones standing in front of bullets”.