Rami Dababish was trying to help the wounded when he found himself facing a thick cloud of tear gas. Feeling the suffocating effects of the gas, he stepped back and squatted on the ground. Then he noticed there was a teenage boy beside him.
Dababish, a field medic, told the boy not to venture any farther. But the instructions made no difference. A short while later, Dababish saw the boy fall over.
Running towards the boy, “I found blood flowing out of his neck,” Dababish said. “I tried to stop the bleeding by putting gauze on the injury and pressing on it. Then his face turned blue. It was only a few minutes before he died.”
This killing occurred on 8 February during the Great March of Return, weekly protests in Gaza demanding that Palestine refugees be allowed go home to the towns and villages from which Zionist forces expelled them in 1948. The victim’s name was Hamza Ishtaiwi. He was 17.
“Hamza held neither a gun nor a stone,” said Dababish. “He was a peaceful protester – like the other youth and children demonstrating every Friday for their right of return.”
Hamza had been planning to leave Gaza. One week earlier, he had spoken with his aunt Bothaina Ishtaiwi, who is working as a journalist in Turkey. Hamza had asked Bothaina for help to reach Turkey so that he could study there.
“If I knew he was going to be killed, I would have agreed to his request,” Bothaina said by telephone.
Defense for Children International Palestine has stated that Hamza was approximately 200 meters from the fence separating Gaza and Israel when he was struck by a live bullet.
“I never expected to see Hamza injured or killed,” said Muhammad Ishtaiwi, the boy’s father. “He was always away from the border fence [during the weekly protests] and didn’t hold any kind of weapon.”
“Our little man”
The Ishtaiwi family wants an international investigation into Hamza’s killing by an Israeli sniper.
In a letter to Rashida Tlaib, a member of the US Congress, the family contended that Hamza was killed “in cold blood” and that Israel has used “excessive fire” against many other participants in the Great March of Return since it began last year.
Hasan Shalabi, aged 13, was also killed on 8 February. He was protesting close to the Khan Younis area in Gaza when he was shot in the chest by an Israeli sniper.
The Shalabi family, which lives in Nuseirat refugee camp, has suffered much hardship in recent times. Hasan’s father Iyad is a civil servant. Around 18 months ago, his salary was reduced considerably by the Palestinian Authority.
Hasan sought work to try and compensate for the drop in his father’s income. He was a talented football player. Yet after he lined up a job, he seldom joined his friends for a kickaround after his daily lessons.
“Hasan used to work in a bakery after school; he worked until midnight for $3 a day to help us,” said his mother Fatma, a niece of the senior Hamas representative Ismail Haniyeh. “I never felt that Hasan was a child. He was our little man. He felt a sense of responsibility towards his family. I have no idea why Israel killed him. He was a pillar of this house.”
Hasan had one brother and five sisters. He never got to meet Jouri, who would have been his sixth sister. She was born 20 days after he was killed.
“Like a rocket”
Sixteen-year-old Hasan Nofal was another victim of Israeli state violence on 8 February.
On that day, Hasan joined the Great March of Return near al-Bureij area, along with his friend Nael Muharib.
After buying cans of Coca-Cola, the two boys approached the fence between Gaza and Israel.
“I was holding Hasan’s can,” Nael said. “I was about to give it to him when I suddenly saw something small coming towards us like a rocket. It hit Hassan on the head and he lost consciousness.”
The flying object was a tear gas canister.
Hasan was rushed to hospital. He spent four days in intensive care before dying from his injuries. The tear gas canister had fractured his skull and caused serious brain damage.
It was by no means the first occasion that a tear gas canister proved to be a lethal weapon. At least five Palestinian children have died since the beginning of 2018 after being struck with such canisters.
Israel has continued firing tear gas in large quantities since Hasan’s death.
On 15 February, Ahmad Abu Rashed, 13, was hit on the head with a tear gas projectile in an area near Jabaliya refugee camp.
Ahmad, a martial arts enthusiast, used to perform karate moves for crowds gathered during the Friday protests. He was undertaking such a performance when he was injured.
Accompanied by other members of his family, Ahmad was around 500 meters from the boundary fence, according to his father Suleiman.
“We were drinking tea and Ahmad was practicing karate,” Suleiman said. “The targeting of Ahmad was direct and intentional.”
Although Ahmad’s skull was fractured, he managed to survive.
Ahmad has vowed to continue protesting at the injustices inflicted on his people. “Once I have recovered, I will go back and take part in the Great March of Return,” he said. “And I will perform karate again.”
Sarah Algherbawi is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza.