Ramallah, March 29, 2019 —For an entire year, Palestinian protesters, including children, have taken part in near-weekly civilian protests along the Israeli-installed perimeter fence in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s excessive use of force, including live ammunition, against unarmed protesters has killed or maimed a high number of children.
Among children who sustained a life-altering injury in 2018 are three boys: Mohammad H., 13, Mohammad M., 17, and Abdullah Q., 16.
Israeli forces shot Mohammad H. at around 6:30 p.m., near Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on June 29, 2018. He marched toward the fence with a group of other protesters. Mohammad was unarmed and making a “victory” sign with his fingers, according to evidence gathered by Defense for Children International - Palestine. Israeli forces fired multiple rounds at the group and one bullet struck Mohammad’s leg.
“Young men and paramedics quickly gathered around me, and the paramedics bandaged my right leg, which had almost been cut off and was still attached to a little skin. It was bleeding profusely,” said Mohammad.
The eighth-grader was treated first at the Indonesian hospital, then transferred to Shifa hospital.
“I woke up in the intensive care unit, thinking that the doctors had fixed my leg because I was still feeling it,” said Mohammad. “I did not know that it was cut off as a result of the injury.”
Mohammad M. was a senior in high school last spring. On April 5 2018 Mohammad said he was feeling tired of staying home and studying. He decided to head over to the tent camps — regularly set up as part of the “Great March of Return” protests — not too far from his neighborhood in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
“That was my first time joining the ‘Return’ march. When I arrived, I saw tents and around 250 people of all ages sitting around,” said 17-year-old Mohammad. He told DCIP that the tents were some 700 meters (0.43 miles) from the perimeter fence. On the other side, he could see four or five Israeli military vehicles and snipers’ rifles sticking out behind some sand hills.
After about an hour, Mohammad and others carried a flag to the perimeter fence. Based on the evidence DCIP gathered, Mohammad was unarmed. At that moment, Israeli forces shot him in the leg. Doctors would later tell him he was struck by an exploding bullet, which caused severe damage and left fragments in his leg.
“It was dangling and bleeding so heavily like a fountain. I shouted to the others to rescue me. They tried to approach me, but the Israeli soldiers were shooting at them,” Mohammad said.
At the European hospital, surgeons found there was nothing they could do to save the limb and performed an amputation.
“I do not know why the Israeli soldiers targeted me,” said Mohammad. “We were not carrying any weapons or throwing stones. We were not posing any danger to the soldiers. I walked to the fence. I was not crawling or hiding,” he added.
Palestinian teenager Abdullah Q. and some of his friends decided to join the “Great March of Return” protests on May 14, 2018.
It was a day that would draw especially large crowds, falling on the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as well as one day before the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. Every May 15, Palestinians commemorate the Nabka or “catastrophe,” which marks the forced displacement and dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948.
The UN would later report that on May 14, 2018, Israeli forces “shot at least 1,162 people with live ammunition; some 141 were wounded by bullet fragmentation or shrapnel, marking the ‘highest one-day deathtoll in Gaza’ since Israel’s 2014 military operation in Gaza.”
Abdullah said the crowds steadily grew through the afternoon. Protesters burned tires and threw stones toward the fence. Israeli forces fired tear gas into the crowds. Around 1 p.m., as Israeli forces were firing live bullets at protesters, Abdullah took cover in a small hole or ditch. He was approximately 50 meters (164 feet) from the fence at the time and was unarmed, according to DCIP’s evidence.
While he was sitting, a single bullet tore through both of his legs. “I fell to the ground on my back, but I did not feel pain,” said the teenager. “I looked at my left thigh and saw that the bone had been smashed, and there was a large hole in it, in addition to holes in the shin area in my right leg. Both of my legs were bleeding heavily,” said Abdullah.
Abdullah was taken to Shifa hospital. He said the emergency room and waiting areas were so crowded that paramedics had to place him on the floor. The operating rooms were also overloaded, forcing Abdullah to be transferred to Al-Quds hospital. There, Abdullah underwent a four-hour surgery where doctors used platinum to hold his bones together and tried to reattach the severed veins.
But in the days after the surgery, Abdullah said that his legs began to turn blue. For several successive surgeries, Abdullah and his family held out hope that doctors could save one or both of his legs. They applied for permission to travel abroad for medical care, but this effort failed too.
By May 25, Abdullah ran out of options. His legs were worsening and a kidney test indicated signs of blood poisoning. Abdullah underwent a double leg amputation to save his life.
The “Great March of Return” demonstrations began in the Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018 in protest of Palestinian refugees’ inability to return to properties lost during events surrounding the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and also to demand an end to Israel’s 11-year near total closure of the Gaza Strip. These mass civilian protests, which have taken place near-weekly over a one-year period in the area along the Israeli-installed Gaza perimeter fence or near the Mediterranean shore, have drawn large and diverse crowds of demonstrators, including women, children, and elderly people.
In the last year, DCIP has documented 18 cases of Palestinian children who suffered permanent disability as a result of injuries sustained in the context of “Great March of Return” protests.
In January of this year, DCIP submitted a joint report to United Nations investigators detailing Israeli forces’ killing of Palestinian children during mass protests in the Gaza Strip, conduct amounting to war crimes.
UN investigators found in March 2019 that Israeli forces likely committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing and maiming child protesters in Gaza. Live ammunition caused injuries to 940 Palestinian children. A further 702 children were injured by a combination of shrapnel, rubber-coated metal bullets, or being struck by tear gas canisters, the report said.