An investigation conducted by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has concluded that Israeli security forces deliberately shot and killed Palestinian paramedics Razan al-Najjar, contradicting the Israeli army’s claims that it was an accident.
On June 1, the 20-year-old al-Najjar was shot in the chest with the single bullet, exiting through her back, while she was trying to help wounded demonstrators in Gaza near the perimeter fence with Israel.
B’Tselem’s investigation found that a member of the Israeli security forces aimed and shot directly at her as al-Najjar stood some 25 metres away from the fence, “despite the fact that she posed no danger to him or anyone else and was wearing a medical uniform.”
“Contrary to the many versions offered by the [Israeli] military, the facts of the case lead to only one conclusion,” Amit Gilutz, spokesperson for B’Tselem said.
Rami Abu Jazar, 29, a volunteer paramedic from Khan Younis was with al-Najjar when she was fatally shot. In a testimony provided to B’Tselem, Jazar explained that around 6pm that day a group of paramedics approached the fence to evacuate two young men who had fainted due to tear gas inhalation.
The paramedics wore medical vests and raised their hands above their heads “to set the soldiers at ease, to make them see we’re paramedics,” Abu Jazar said.
However, as they began to evacuate the young men, the soldiers started to fire a “heavy barrage” of tear gas canisters at them. Al-Najjar began to choke and the group moved away from the fence.
“After we had moved away, we started feeling better and decided to go closer to the protesters,” Abu Jazar said.
“We stood about 10 meters away from them, which was about 25 meters away from the fence. There were no protesters near us. At around 5:45pm, we saw two soldiers get out of a military jeep, kneel and aim their guns at us, taking up a sniper stance.
“Razan was standing to my right and [medical team member] Rasha was behind me. We were talking. Suddenly, they fired two live bullets at us. I looked at Razan and saw her point to her back and then fall down.”
A second later, Abu Jazar also fell having been hit by a live bullet above the left knee. Another paramedic that stood with them was hit by shrapnel in the right hand and pelvic area.
According to B’Tselem, the spokesperson for the Israeli forces tried to clear the army of any responsibility for al-Najjar’s death by initially saying that soldiers didn’t fire at the spot where she was standing.
On June 5, the Israeli forces’ spokesperson said that according to their initial investigation, al-Najjar was not intentionally targeted, suggesting that she was likely killed by a ricochet or a misdirected shot, according to the Times of Israel.
Their probe was based on interviews with soldiers who were at the scene. Their examination found that they had fired at demonstrators, not at al-Najjar.
‘I’m targeted by the Israeli army’
B’Tselem’s findings coincide with al-Najjar’s personal account of being targeted by the Israeli army before she was killed.
In April, al-Najjar told Al Jazeera that Israeli forces had shot directly at her more than once, warning her to stop tending to the wounded.
“Soldiers tried to kill me so many times,” al-Najjar said. “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.”
A bullet had narrowly missed her head and another time, a bullet flew past her leg while she was tending to demonstrators on the field.
Al-Najjar recounted that during a Friday protest in April, as she 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.
“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.”
Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 137 Palestinians and have injured more than 15,000 according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
On May 14, about two weeks before al-Najjar was shot dead, Israeli forces killed another paramedic, Musa Abu Hassanin, 34, with live ammunition as he was tending to injured demonstrators.
According to the World Health Organization (PDF), from March 30 until July 10, 357 health workers were attacked – 26 were hit by live fire, 37 were directly hit with tears gas canisters and 12 were hit by shrapnel. 58 ambulances were also attacked during the same time period.
‘Whitewashing the facts’
According to B’Tselem, the killing of al-Najjar is a direct result of the open-fire policy Israel has implemented since the mass protests began.
The rejection of responsibility for al-Najjar’s killing is part of efforts made by authorities to mitigate the damage to Israel’s image by hiding and whitewashing the facts, Gilutz said.
“In reality, Israel is indifferent to the killing of Palestinians. Otherwise, it would long ago have changed its open-fire policy and stopped shooting at unarmed protesters on the other side of the fence who pose no danger to anyone,” Gilutz said.
“Evidence of this criminal policy is found time and time again as the military persists in implementing it unchanged, enlisting its whitewashing apparatus to back it up, which almost always ensures no one will be held accountable for the killing of Palestinians even in outrageous circumstances such as al-Najjar’s killing.”
Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din and several other organisations filed petitions to the High Court of Justice claiming that open-fire regulations during the March of Great Return protests were illegal if they permitted shooting at civilians who don’t pose an imminent threat to life.
However, the court unanimously rejected their petitions in May. The justices argued that the demonstrations are part of the country’s conflict with the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs Gaza.
According to Yesh Din, only 3.4 percent of the 948 investigations launched by the military between 2011 and 2016 led to the filing of an indictment.
“The persistent low indictment rate, together with the analysis and criticism from Yesh Din and other human rights organisations attests to a systemic trend of no exhaustive investigations, as well as a systematic tendency to grant impunity to offenders,” said Lior Amihai, executive director of Yesh Din.
“[Al-Najjar’s] case and perhaps many other examples provide further proof for the necessity of an external investigation which will not only examine misconduct by soldiers but if the rules of engagement themselves were illegal.”