I’ve already blogged extensively about the proliferating, Bil’in-inspired demonstrations against the expansion of the buffer zone from 300 meters to 800 meters. This expansion has meant the further destruction of homes and farmland in border regions across Gaza. In light of today’s news, I’m writing yet another blog post on this topic, as it seems only a matter of time before one of the protesters gets killed.
This morning, Israeli troops shot a female 22-year-old protester in the lower abdomen. Hind Al-Akra (pictured above with her aunt) was participating in a demonstration near the Maghassi refugee camp that included about 150 people. Saber Zaaneen, the organizer of the Local Initiative Against the Buffer Zone, leads most of the demonstrations, which now occur five days per week in different locations around Gaza. However, Mr. Zaaneen was not present at this particular demonstration. He called me upon hearing the news of the shootings, and I then jumped in a taxi to Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Bala.
I visited Hind in a sparse hospital room where almost a dozen female relatives had gathered by her bedside. Luckily, the bullet did not hit any organs or cause any internal bleeding. Her doctors described her condition as “stable.” I didn’t ask Hind any questions, but she volunteered in a dazed state of mind that “Israeli troops just open fired on the crowd.”
Doctor Taysir Mummar said that Hind will undergo surgery to remove a piece of shrapnel from the muscle in her abdomen. (The picture on the right shows Dr. Mummar pointing to the shrapnel in the xray.) He emphasized that Hind was shot by “a type of bullet that explodes on impact” and is therefore “more deadly” than ordinary bullets.
At the same hospital, I briefly met the two other demonstrators who were shot today: a 28-year-old ISM activist from Malta named Bianca Zimmit and an 18-year-old Palestinian boy named Nidal Al Naji (pictured below). Both Bianca and Nidal were shot in the muscles of their thighs, do not have any broken bones, and have been released from the hospital.
An IDF official told Army Radio this afternoon that troops had first fired into the air and then fired toward the lower part of people’s bodies after protesters refused to disperse. The IDF has long contended that allowing Palestinians to enter the buffer zone endangers Israeli soldiers because militants sometimes use the area to plant explosives for ambushes on Israeli troops.
Protest leader Saber Zaaneen has grown increasingly concerned about demonstrators’ safety. Three others were shot in their legs last week. At a Tuesday demonstration that I observed near Beit Lahia, Mr. Zaaneen instructed activists to plant their Palestinian flags about 300 meters from the border instead of proceeding any closer. Israeli troops then fired warning shots that did not hit anyone. The video below, which documentary filmmaker Maurice Jacobsen and I produced for New Matilda, tells the story of this earlier demonstration.