For the past six weeks, the boundary between Gaza and Israel has been a deadly place for Palestinians. Israeli forces killed at least 16 Palestinians during protests in that area between 1 October and 6 November.
Israel’s violence did not deter 22-year-old Muhammad al-Bhaisy from joining a demonstration at the boundary on 6 November. Accompanied by his friend Sharif Mousa, he brought along a large Palestinian flag. On the way to the protest from his home in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp, Muhammad found a stick on the street, to which he fastened the flag.
Hundreds of young Palestinians took part in the protest at the boundary that day. As Muhammad and Sharif arrived, they could see that Israeli soldiers had already begun firing tear gas and bullets.
After approximately 20 minutes, Muhammad suddenly ran towards the boundary fence, near al-Bureij, another refugee camp in Gaza. Sharif tried to hold his friend back. But he couldn’t.
A video of the incident has been uploaded to Facebook.
It shows Israeli soldiers opening fire towards Muhammad as he runs. They do not hit him, at first.
Then Muhammad arrives at the boundary fence and mounts his flag upon it. At that moment, he is shot.
Muhammad falls to the ground, but then raises an arm to let people know he is still alive. When several other young men rush to try and rescue him, Israeli soldiers fire on them, forcing them to retreat.
Finally, another group manages to run to Muhammad and carry him away. All the while, Israeli soldiers continue firing on them as they run away from the fence.
“They wanted to let him bleed to death, like they have done [to Palestinians shot] in the West Bank and in Jerusalem,” Sharif told The Electronic Intifada.
Doctors at al-Shifa managed to stop the bleeding and to save his life.
Muhammad is now in critical condition at Barzilai, a hospital in Askalan (Ashkelon), a city in present-day Israel.
It took two days before Israel granted permission for him to be transferred there. The wait proved agonizing for his family. They were worried that Muhammad would die.
His mother, Sumaiya, said she didn’t know that Muhammad had gone to the protest.
His brother, Amer, said, “We were all surprised by Muhammad’s action. We were all very proud.”
Awadallah, Muhammad’s shocked father, could barely find the words to describe his son. But he said Muhammad is kind, brave and strong, and that he wanted something to change.
Muhammad’s cousin, Khalil, said that Muhammad ran toward the fence even though he knew it could cost him his life. He carried out his act of defiance “because of the terrible life here.”
“There’s no work, no money and no way out,” Khalil said.
Sumaiya refused to watch the video of her son being shot.
“We Palestinians, it’s our fate to struggle. It’s normal that we get shot, we die. But when my son gets shot for the sake of Palestine, I expect him to at least be treated as a human,” she said.
Getting Muhammad out of Gaza and into Israel for medical treatment was an arduous process, requiring Israel’s permission and facilitation.
Mohammed Bseiso, a lawyer with the rights group, told The Electronic Intifada that after he spoke to doctors treating Muhammad, it was clear that the young man’s life depended on him being transferred to a “normal hospital.”
But Israel at first refused to grant the permission. Bseiso spent two full days dealing with the Israeli authorities to finally secure Muhammad’s transfer.
Sharif Mousa plans to return to the protests once Muhammad recovers.
“Muhammad raises our heads up,” Sharif said. “He’s a hero.”
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in Oakland, California. Twitter: @CharESilver.