Israeli forces shoot at Gaza bird-catchers, farmers

Farmer Mahmoud Mohammed Shawish Zaneen was shot in both his legs while planting wheat east of Beit Hanoun. (Eva Bartlett)

On 15 November at 8:30am, a number of young men went as usual to the land near Gaza’s northern border with Israel planning to catch birds. Amjad Hassanain, 27, was among the bird-catchers hunting near the border fence when Israeli soldiers began shooting.

The shots which missed the other bird-catchers hit Hassanain, grazing his shoulder. Cameraman Abdul Rahman Hussain, filming in the vicinity, reports having seen the group of bird-catches head north.

“We were near the former Israeli settlement of Doghit,” said Hussain, referring to the area northwest of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.

“I had gone to the border area to photograph a young bird-catcher. We were about 400 meters from the border fence, but when we heard the shooting, we moved back to around one kilometer.”

According to Hussain, the other men had to carry the wounded Hassanain one kilometer from the site of injury, then transferred him to a motorcycle and finally to a car.

“He was covered in blood, I couldn’t tell where he was hit,” said Hussain.

There to document the work of bird-catchers, Hussain was surprised by the shooting.

“They always go there to catch birds. They put their nets close to the fence in order to catch as many as possible.” Like the bird-catchers, Hussain believed the Israeli soldiers along the border were familiar enough with the bird catching activity that they wouldn’t shoot.

Two hours later, Mahmoud Mohammed Shawish Zaneen and seven other farmers took a break from their work plowing land east of Beit Hanoun.

“We had three tractors with us. We’d been working since 8am, planting wheat. At first we worked about 450 meters from the border fence, but later we were 700 meters away,” he explained.

The farmers had paused to drink tea when Israeli soldiers began shooting.

Zaneen added, “The tractors were stopped and we were sitting on them. There were about seven Israeli soldiers, on foot. They shot the other tractors and then shot mine. They didn’t give us any warning, just started shooting.”

The bullet which pierced Zaneen’s left calf continued into his right calf.

Since the end of last winter’s Israeli invasion of Gaza, at least nine Palestinians have been killed, and another more than 34 injured, by Israeli shooting and shelling in the border areas in Gaza’s north and east.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who arrived in Gaza in November 2008 on the third Free Gaza Movement boat. She has been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement and documenting Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. During Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, she and other ISM volunteers accompanied ambulances and documenting the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.