When a sniper shot a surfer

Man wearing t-shirt and shorts holds a surfboard with one arm and supports himself with crutches using his other arm

Raed Jadallah was waving a Palestinian flag when an Israeli sniper shot him in his leg.

Mohamed Hajjar

Raed Jadallah was regarded as one of Palestine’s best surfers. From his home in the Beach refugee camp of Gaza City, he dreamed of traveling abroad to hone the skills he had developed through constant practice.

Israel prevented him from realizing his ambitions.

In 2017, Raed was invited to a training course for surfers in Italy. He was unable to go. The Israeli authorities refused to allow him to leave Gaza.

Much worse was to come. On 6 April this year, Raed was badly injured as he participated in the Great March of Return in an area to the east of Gaza City.

Raed stood about 100 meters from the boundary between Gaza and Israel, waving a Palestinian flag. He was demonstrating in support of the right to return for refugees expelled from their homes by Zionist forces during the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

As he demanded that basic right, he was attacked by an Israeli sniper.

“I was shot with an explosive bullet in my left leg,” the 26-year-old said. “Doctors have told me that I will not be able to go back to surfing because my muscles will not be as strong as they were. Surfing requires strong muscles and being able to balance on the surfboard. At the moment, I cannot move my leg.”

Passion for the sea

The injury has multiple consequences.

Because of it, Raed has lost his job as a construction worker.

The job had provided an important source of income for his family, some of whom have disabilities. They include his brother Rafiq, who was injured during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in 2006.

Another brother, Medhat, who was 17, was killed by Israeli forces in 2000. He was taking part in a protest east of Gaza City at the time.

Raed was passionate about the sea. He had worked as a fisher but gave that up because it was too dangerous. Israel frequently attacks fishers, sometimes fatally.

Surfing provided him with opportunities to escape – if temporarily – from the hardships of everyday life. Now his opportunities to savor a little freedom have been shattered.

Israel killed more than 150 Palestinians in Gaza between 30 March – the date of the first protest in the Great March of Return – and 12 July.

Approximately 8,000 people have been taken to hospital with injuries in that period. Nearly half of them were wounded with live ammunition.

“Volleyball made life beautiful”

The wounded have included more than 50 athletes.

Abd al-Hameed Fayad is among them.

A 26-year-old volleyball player, Fayad was injured on 14 May, the day Israel committed its worst massacre of 2018 so far. He was shot with three explosive bullets – two in his left leg, the other in his right.

The medical team treating him at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City initially thought that his left leg would have to be amputated. Fortunately, they determined that the leg could be saved. He has subsequently undergone a number of operations.

“I have platinum in my legs now,” he said. “I hate how they look because they restrict my movement. The doctors have told me that I will have difficulty walking for the time being because my foot was damaged and I lost 15 centimeters of bone.”

Young man with metal brace on leg smiles as he throws a volleyball in the air while sitting on a small bed

“My story is the same as that of many athletes in Gaza,” says Abd al-Hameed Fayad.

Mohamed Hajjar

Fayad also lives in Beach refugee camp and played volleyball for a local club. His injuries mean that he has to give up his beloved sport.

“I used to run on the beach every day,” he said. “Volleyball made life beautiful. Through it, I could forget my worries. My story is the same as that of many athletes in Gaza.”

He has performed a number of jobs over recent years – working in construction, in a barbershop and, just before he was wounded, in a shoe shop. His earnings were vital for his family, helping to sustain his six brothers. As he cannot work at the moment, the family has to try and survive on less money.

Muhammad Abu Ghaza from Rafah, a city near Gaza’s border with Egypt, had been the breadwinner for his family since his father, a blacksmith, became unemployed two years ago.

Abu Ghaza worked as an accountant in a household appliance store. Each evening, he practiced playing handball with a club from his area.

Young man wearing long tunic lifts fabric to reveal leg with metal brace on it

Israel has not allowed Muhammad Abu Ghaza to travel to Jordan for specialized medical treatment.

Mohamed Hajjar

On 6 April, he joined the Great March of Return. He was more than 300 meters from the boundary separating Gaza and Israel, when he was shot in his right knee. An Israeli sniper had struck him with an exploding bullet.

His nerves have been damaged as a result and the surgery he requires is not available inside Gaza. An application was submitted in order for him to receive treatment in Jordan. Israel, however, has refused to allow him to travel.

The thought that he can no longer play sport distresses Abu Ghaza. Each night, he visits the seaside, trying as hard as he can not to think about his pain.

“Israel destroyed my dream to be a professional handball player,” he said. “It is normal for the Israeli occupation to hold back a young man with a dream. It is not strange at all. The occupation and the siege kill us every day.”

Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.