‘He had no gun, no Molotov’: Gaza families call for investigation into Israeli use of force

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Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi, a 19-year-old Palestinian, was shot dead during Friday’s protests in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Mahmoud Abu Salama)

The morning after burying 19-year-old Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi, his family gathered in a tent set up to receive mourners, watching and re-watching a video of the moment they say Israeli soldiers shot him in the back.

It appears to show Abdul Fattah, dressed in black, running away from the border fence carrying a tire. Just before reaching the crowd, he crumples under gunfire. 

“He had no gun, no Molotov, a tire. Does that harm the Israelis, a tire?” asked his brother Mohamed Abdul Nabi, 22. “He wasn’t going toward the Israeli side. He was running away.” 

The falafel shop worker was one of at least 15 people killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip on Friday, during what Palestinian factions billed as a peaceful “March of Return” to mark Land Day, the anniversary of the expropriation of Arab-owned land by the Israeli government in 1976. But it ended as the bloodiest day in the 140-square-mile territory since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Israeli military for guarding the country’s borders. “Israel will act firmly and decisively to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

The Israel military has warned that it will “expand” its response if violence continues. Hamas and other factions in Gaza have vowed to keep up demonstrations, raising fears of more clashes.

Video posted to YouTube appears to show the moment Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi was shot.

Abdul Fattah’s family is among those demanding an investigation into the Israeli response to the protest, saying videos show he posed no threat. More than 700 people were injured with live ammunition in the demonstration, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. 

The United Nations on Saturday said it was “deeply concerned” and called for a transparent, independent investigation. Israeli human rights group Adalah and the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human rights wrote to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to demand accountability.

In the letter, they said the use of such weapons against civilians was a “blatant violation of international laws.” 

Israel said it stuck to strict rules of engagement to deal with a 30,000-strong crowd along the border, saying “rioters” threw molotov cocktails and stones, burned tires, and attempted to break through the fence.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond Saturday to requests to clarify the rules of engagement that were followed. In the days preceding the demonstration, it had dropped leaflets warning residents in Gaza to stay at least 300 meters from the border fence or risk being shot. 

It accused Hamas of using the cover of peaceful demonstrations to carry out attacks. Five of those killed were members of Hamas’ military wing, Hamas said.

But other demonstrators said they were there to protest peacefully. The family of 20-year-old Badr Sabbagh said he had just arrived to watch the demonstrations when he was shot. They rejected the Israeli army’s assertion that everyone killed was involved in violence.  

“He asked for a cigarette, I gave it to him, he had two puffs, and then he was shot in the head,” said Mohammed Sabbagh, his 29-year-old brother. “He’d only been there 10 minutes.” 

“I took my grandchildren. We went to a peaceful demonstration,” said his father Fayik Sabbagh, 64. “We went them to tell them this is our land, but what we found was different.” 

The demonstrations, which Hamas and other Palestinian factions hope to sustain for another month and a half, had died down on Saturday, with thinner crowds on the border than a day earlier. Some 35 people suffered gunshot wounds on Saturday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. 

In response to the video of Abdul Fattah’s killing, the Israeli military warned that Hamas had published several videos of Friday’s events, “some of which only depict parts of incidents while others are edited or completely fabricated.” 

Two other videos were circulated online that showed the shooting from different angles, while witnesses said Abdul Fattah was clearly running away from the fence. 

Palestinian photographer Mahmoud Abu Salama was taking photos at the time, capturing Abdul Fattah’s last moments. He said the man in the video wearing the green shirt had run toward the border fence to retrieve a tire left there earlier in the morning. He is seen in the video belly-crawling toward the tire before picking it up and running back to the crowd as bullets kick up dust around his feet. As he stumbles, Abdul Fattah runs to help him and grabs the tire. 

He was shot from behind a few hundred meters away from the fence, Salama said. 

“He was killed in cold blood,” said 28-year-old Alaa Abdul Nabi, another brother of the slain demonstrator. “We will report that to the United Nations. We want to know who participated in killing him. He wasn’t armed.” 

Abdul Fattah’s family said he wasn’t affiliated with any military faction but said that he goes to demonstrations and throws stones. But that’s no reason to be shot, they said.  

“They were throwing stones, but the stones never even reached the fence,” said Alaa. “It’s a message, to throw a stone from our land.”

But he had little hope anyone would be held accountable, a sentiment echoed by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. 

“These are the predictable outcomes of a manifestly illegal command: Israeli soldiers shooting live ammunition at unarmed Palestinian protesters,” said Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for the group. “What is predictable, too, is that no one — from the snipers on the ground to top officials whose policies have turned Gaza into a giant prison — is likely to be ever held accountable.” 

Abdul Fattah, like the majority of Gazans of his generation, had never left the Gaza Strip. Israel has imposed tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people since Hamas took control of the area in 2007.  

Over the past year, though, the United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating, adding there may be a collapse in the economy and services. The unemployment rate is estimated to be around 50 percent. 

Israel blames Hamas for the worsening humanitarian situation, saying the group diverts money it should use on its civilians to nefarious military activities.  

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