Gaza has been under the Israeli blockade ever since Fares was a baby. He witnessed three wars. He didn’t have the childhood that other children around the world have. He saw Israeli tanks and heard airstrikes and live gunfire... He grew up with power cuts. On Friday, 5 October 2018, at around 6:00 P.M., a few young guys showed up on my doorstep and told me that Fares had been lightly wounded in the shoulder. I thought it wasn't a serious injury. Then I saw that neighbors and relatives started gathering around the house. They told me that Fares had been badly hurt. I got worried and asked my nephews to give it to me straight, and tell me if Fares had been killed. They said he had.
This is how Fatimah a-Sarsawi (43), a married mother of nine, recounted the discovery that her son Fares had been killed, in a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 1 November 2018. Fares a-Sarsawi (13) was killed by Israeli security forces who opened live fire at him during a demonstration near the Gaza perimeter fence, east of Gaza City, on 5 October 2018. A-Sarsawi is one of at least 31 Palestinian minors killed since the Return Protests along the Gaza fence began on 30 March 2018. Of these, 21 were under the age of 16, and three were 11 years old.
In October, we published the findings of our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of four of the minors. Following are the results of our investigation of four more.
Since the weekly protests began, they have been attended by several hundred to tens of thousands of protesters at a time. During the demonstrations, which are usually held on Fridays, some protesters throw stones, some damage the fence, and a small number cross it or throw hand grenades, IEDs and Molotov cocktails at the troops. The forces fire teargas, rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition at the protesters. More than 180 protesters have been killed, including at least 31 minors, and more than 5,800 have been injured by live fire. Most of these individuals posed no danger to the troops, who were stationed on the other side of the fence. The wounding or killing of so many is the direct outcome of Israel's open-fire policy in the area of the Gaza fence, directed also at demonstrators there. While the Israeli authorities are fully aware of the fatal implications of this reprehensible policy, they remain indifferent to the lives - and deaths - of Palestinians and refuse to change it. The prime minister and his government support the policy and the military acts accordingly - including using its whitewashing mechanisms to ensure that, with very rare exceptions, no one will be held accountable for killing Palestinians.
Following are some of the testimonies B’Tselem collected in its investigation of the deaths of four of the minors killed until 5 November 2018: Naser Musbeh (11), Fares a-Sarsawi (13), Ahmad Abu Habel (15) and Suhayb Abu Kashef (16).
The killing of Naser Musbeh (11) north of the town of Khuza’ah, 28 September 2018:
On Friday, 28 September 2018, at around 4:00 P.M., three members of the Musbeh family from Khan Yunis arrived at a demonstration held north of the town of Khuza’ah: volunteer medics Islam (19) and Du'aa (17), and their brother Naser (11), also a Red Crescent volunteer. The two sisters headed towards the fence to give injured protesters first aid, leaving their younger brother in the tent area, about 300 meters from the fence. Almost two hours later, at approximately 5:45, Naser Musbeh was shot in the head while he was about 100 meters from the fence. 'Abd a-Rahman Abu Ta'imah (24), a resident of ‘Abasan al-Kabirah and a volunteer medic on the Ruzan a-Najar medical team, together with the Musbehs, was also at the demonstration tending to the injured.
In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Khaled al-'Azayzeh on 1 October 2018, Abu Ta'imah described how Naser Musbeh was shot:
At 5:30 P.M., after I tended to a demonstrator who got injured near the fence, I headed back to the tents to rest a bit. On my way there, I saw Naser Musbeh sitting under an olive tree with the medic Islam 'Okal, our team leader. They were about ten meters from the Jakar Road. Naser was wearing black. I told Islam I needed rest. After resting for a few minutes, I went back to the protest area. About eighty meters from the concertina wire, which was about fifteen meters from the fence, I met Naser's sister Du'aa, and she asked me if I'd seen him.
I told her he was with Islam 'Okal. Du'aa phoned Islam and asked her to send some medical supplies with Naser. He brought the supplies to Du'aa and stayed with us for a few minutes. The medic Baker Qdeih (29) asked him to move back because we were in a dangerous area. Naser went back. I continued on alone, but stayed at the same distance from the fence. At 5:45 I saw someone approach the fence. The Israeli side fired a warning shot at him and he drew back. Immediately after that I heard two gunshots and saw someone fall down about ninety meters from the fence. He was a few meters in front of me. I went over to him and saw he'd been hit in both legs. I gave him first aid. Then I heard some guys nearby yelling “Martyr, martyr!". I left him, and some other guys carried him away. I went back, towards the guys with the martyr. I saw that they were standing over Naser, who was lying on the ground about seventy meters from the concertina wire. He'd been hit in the head by a bullet. When I saw Naser’s bloody head, I became paralyzed and couldn't do a thing.
I was sure he was dead, because he wasn't moving. Then the guys picked him up and ran to the ambulance. I ran after them. I got into another ambulance, with the person I'd been treating when Naser was hit. The two ambulances drove to the field clinic, which is about 700 meters west of the tents. The doctors tried to save Naser. I went to check on the young guy I'd treated earlier and filmed him on video. One of the medics told me that Naser had been taken to the European Hospital.
A.T. (27), a volunteer medic from 'Abasan al-Kabirah, related in a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Khaled al-'Azayzeh on 7 October 2018:
At around 5:45, the soldiers opened fire at the demonstrators - and there were many that day. I saw a boy standing and looking towards the tents. He was about seventy or eighty meters from the concertina wire. He fell over. I was about ten meters away from him. I ran over. When I reached him, he was lying on his back. He'd been shot in the head and some of his brain was spilling out of his skull. We picked him up and ran to the Red Crescent ambulance. I didn't yet realize was Naser Musbeh. Then I went back to the field and continued working. Naser used to come to the protests every Friday and bring medical supplies from the field clinic to the protest area. Because his face was covered in blood and it all happened so fast, I didn't recognize him.
Du'aa Musbeh (17) recounted her brother's death in a testimony she gave B'Tselem field researcher Olfart al-Kurd on 8 October 2018:
While I was treating people who'd inhaled teargas by the fence, I noticed that my brother Naser wasn't next to me as he usually is. I started looking for him and asked my sister Islam where he was.
Then he showed up. He handed me a medical solution and went off again. At 6:30 I told Islam it was time to find Naser and go home. I looked for him but couldn't find him, and the medics I asked hadn't seen him either. I asked around the first aid stations and was told a boy had been badly injured. I went to the medical tent to look for him. I looked for his name on the medical charts but it wasn't there.
I waited at the medical tent. In the meantime, my mother told me on the phone that Naser wasn't home yet. A security guy who came to the tent called the European Hospital and they sent him a photo of a minor who had been killed. I recognized Naser instantly. Islam wouldn't believe it and said it wasn't him. Islam and I went to the hospital immediately, to identify Naser in the morgue. The moment I saw him, I knew it was him. I started screaming and crying, and so did Islam. We were in shock. Some people took us outside, screaming and sobbing. We couldn't believe it had happened to us. How could we have gone to the protest with Naser and be coming home without him? My little brother was dead, a martyr.
The next day, Saturday, we said goodbye to my little brother Naser at home and prayed for him together, the whole family. It was very hard to say goodbye.
I hugged him and kissed him and wept. I couldn't believe what had happened to him. He was just a kid who'd done nothing wrong. He wasn't carrying a weapon, no grenades or bullets. He was shot for no reason. Naser wasn't just my brother. He was my everything. He slept with me, ate with me and was always by my side. At the demonstrations, too, he wanted to be with me all the time. He would bring medical supplies to help me and Islam. He knew enough English to identify the supplies and completed a thirty-hour first aid course with the Palestinian Red Crescent. He didn't get a certificate because he was too young. Naser wanted to be a doctor, so he loved coming with us as to the protests as a medic in training. I pray for grace for his soul, and for God to help me cope with his death.
The killing of Fares a-Sarsawi (13) east of Gaza City, 5 October 2018:
On Friday, 5 October 2018, at around 4:00 P.M., two children from Gaza City - Fares a-Sarsawi (13) and his relative Muhammad Wajih a-Sarsawi (12) - rode a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled vehicle) to a demonstration east of Gaza City, carrying two tires with them. When they got there, the two boys approached the fence, torched tires, threw a tire over the fence and threw stones. Fares a-Sarsawi was killed bringing a tire to the fence, about five meters from it.
In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 7 October 2018, Muhammad related:
When we got there, we rolled the tires over to the fence and set them on fire. Then we pushed one tire through a hole that someone had cut in the fence and threw stones.
At one point, Fares climbed the main fence and threw a tire over to the other side. Later, while we were trying to bring another tire near the fence, Fares suddenly fell over, a few meters from the fence. I saw blood coming out of the right side of his chest. I grabbed him and started crying. A guy in a black galabiyeh [long cloak] came over, picked him up and started carrying him to an ambulance. I ran after him and then my cousin, Muhammad As'ad a-Sarsawi, came over and I told him Fares had been hit. He took Fares and put him on a stretcher together with the medics, and they carried him to the ambulance. I ran home to let my family know that Fares had been killed, but they didn't believe me. I cried over him a lot. I was so sad that he was dead. He wasn’t just a relative, he was my friend, and we got used to going to the protests together to throw some stones at soldiers. I can't believe Fares is gone. I think about him all the time, and I don't know how I'll live without him.
In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 7 October 2018, Muhammad As'ad a-Sarsawi (21) from Gaza City shared his recollection of that day:
When I got to the demonstration, around 4:00 P.M., I saw a commotion. Some of the protesters were burning tires and throwing stones, and the army responded with live fire and teargas.
I was standing about 100 meters from the fence. I saw my cousins Fares and Muhammad a-Sarsawi getting a tire and moving towards the fence. There were young guys and teens torching tires and throwing stones there. Fares got about five meters from the fence and lit the tire. At around 5:50 I saw him fall over a few meters from the fence. Muhammad was with him. I went over and Muhammad said Fares had been hit. A guy in a black galabiyeh was carrying him. I went over, took Fares from him and headed towards the ambulance. Some medics came and put him on a stretcher, and took him to the field clinic. From there he was taken to a-Shifaa Hospital.
The attempts to resuscitate Fares a-Sarsawi at a-Shifaa Hospital failed, and he was pronounced dead from a bullet wound to the chest.
His mother, Fatimah a-Sarsawi (43), a married mother of nine, described her feelings in a testimony she gave B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 1 November 2018:
Gaza has been under the Israeli blockade ever since Fares was a baby. He witnessed three wars. He didn’t have the childhood that other children around the world have. He saw Israeli tanks and heard airstrikes and live gunfire. In the 2014 war, Fares was nine years old. Our house was bombed and some of our relatives were killed. He was terrified of the sounds of planes and artillery. Like all the kids growing up in besieged Gaza, his life was full of anxiety. I always asked him not to go to the protests because I was afraid he'd be shot. His brothers, Muhammad (18) and 'Abd al-'Aziz (16), had already been injured there.
On Friday, 5 October 2018, at around 6:00 P.M., a few young guys showed up on my doorstep and told me that Fares had been lightly wounded in the shoulder. I thought it wasn't a serious injury. Then I saw that neighbors and relatives started gathering around the house. They told me that Fares had been badly hurt. I got worried and asked my nephews to give it to me straight, and tell me if Fares had been killed. They said he had. I cried and fainted and didn't want to talk to anyone there. I didn't go to the hospital immediately because I didn't want to see my son dead. I went there only at around 10:00 P.M. I found him on a cooling slab in the morgue. I sobbed my heart out and hugged and kissed him. I recited: "He is in the hands of God, may he enter God's grace and may God give me strength." I felt like I'd been torn apart. I went home crying and left him in the morgue. Fares loved soccer, riding his bike and watching cartoons. He always asked me to cook him "maftoul". Now I cry every day when I see his friends on their way to school or playing in the neighborhood without him. Fares was a little boy and was no danger to the Israeli army. Why did they hurt him like that? What had he done after all?
The killing of Ahmad Abu Habel (15) Erez Crossing, 3 October 2018:
On Wednesday, 3 October 2018, at around 4:00 P.M., two friends from Beit Lahiya - Ahmad Abu Habel and Muhammad Dawas, both 15 - rode an organized bus to a demonstration being held opposite Erez Crossing, north of their hometown. During the demonstration, while they were sitting on the roadside at least 200 meters from the fence, soldiers fired a teargas canisters that hit Abu Habel in the head, killing him.
In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 4 October 2018, Dawas related what had happened: :
Ever since protests started being held on Mondays and Wednesdays at Erez Crossing, my friend Ahmad Abu Habel and I have been going there. We throw stones at the soldiers and take part in the "night-time confusion" demonstrations. We get there at sundown, throw stones, and stay at the protest for hours. Then we go home. On Wednesday, 3 October 2018, at around 4:00 P.M., Ahmad and I got on a bus that takes demonstrators to Erez Crossing. When we got there, at around 5:00, there were already some demonstrators by the crossing. The soldiers threw teargas canisters and some of the protesters threw stones at the soldiers. The air was full of teargas. We breathed in a lot of it and just couldn't stand or walk. Ahmad and I moved away from the checkpoint and went to sit by the road to get away from the teargas.
Suddenly, after about ten minutes, while I was sitting next to Ahmad, he keeled over and I saw smoke rising from his head. He was hit in the head by a teargas canister. I ran away so I wouldn't get hit, too. I called the medics to come help him. Blood was streaming from his head. The medics picked him up and carried him to an ambulance, which took him to the Indonesian Hospital. I went with him. A few minutes after we got to the hospital, he was pronounced dead.
Ahmad Abu Ful (31), a medic from Beit Lahiya, described what he saw at the protest in a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 9 October 2018:
On Wednesday, 3 October 2018, at around 5:30 P.M., I was at a demonstration at Erez Crossing when I heard a kid, maybe fifteen years old, say to other protesters: "I'm afraid of teargas canisters because I was hit in the back by one once, at another demonstration." I said to him: "If you're afraid of the teargas, move back,” because the Israeli military was firing tons of teargas canisters. At around 6:00, I moved away to tend to a guy who'd been injured and take him to an ambulance. I was about 180 meters from the fence. As I was making my back to the protesters, several teargas canisters were fired. A demonstrator was hit about ten meters away from me. I ran over to him, and some medics made it before me. He was lying on the ground. A teargas canister was lodged in his head and was smoking. Some medics pulled the canister out of his head, and parts of his brain came out with it. We gave him first aid and carried him to an ambulance about fifty meters away.
Israeli security forces fired a teargas canister at Abu Habel as he sat at least 200 meters away from them, and it lodged in his head. It appears to have been an extended-range canister, which weighs more and moves faster than standard canisters. B'Tselem has cautioned in the past that this type of ammunition is more dangerous than regular teargas canisters. Abu Habel was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Indonesian Hospital near Jabalya Refugee Camp..
In a testimony she gave B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 9 October 2018, Ahmad's mother, Iftikhar Abu Habel (56), a married mother of ten, said:
Ahmad was my youngest son. He was at a vocational school. He always took part in the protests by the fence, even though I tried to get him not to go because I was afraid he’d be injured or killed. He insisted on going with the neighbors' sons and his friends. On Friday evening, 3 October 2018, my daughters and daughters-in-law were over at my place. They knew Ahmad had been killed, but they didn't tell me because they were afraid something might happen to me. Then my son Samed came and told me that Ahmad had been lightly injured. But then I saw one of my daughters-in-law crying. I asked them if Ahmad had bee killed and they said he had, and wished me patience and the strength to endure.
Straightaway, I went to the Indonesian Hospital with my son Naser. I found Ahmad in the morgue. I started screaming and crying. I threw myself on him and begged him: “Ahmad! Ahmad! Ahmad! Wake up! I'm here, I want you to come home with me, come sleep next to me." My sons and relatives got me out of the morgue and back home. My heart was on fire. Ahmad had been killed and I'd left him behind in the morgue. All night long I held his clothes and pillow, reached out to touch his bed. And I cried. I kept asking: "Ahmad, where are you?" It was one of the hardest nights of my life. I didn't fall asleep. I cried and cried and didn't sleep a wink. How could I sleep, without Ahmad by my side?
The next morning, they carried Ahmad back on a stretcher, as a martyr. I hugged him and kissed his face and head, screaming and crying. I said: "Where are you going, Ahmad?! Why are you leaving me? Who will sleep by me and bring me whatever I need?" Ahmad was killed although he did nothing wrong. He didn't get a chance to grow up like everyone else and fulfill his dreams or finish his vocational training. He always had such compassion for me and hated to see me sad or worried. He would try to make me feel better and joke around until I smiled. I'm surrounded by children and grandchildren but the house feels empty, because Ahmad is gone. I always told him he was the love of my life. The last words Ahmad said to me when he left for the demonstration were: "We'll go there by bus and come back in an ambulance." It was as if he knew he'd come back as a martyr.
The killing of Suhayb Abu Kashef (16) north of the town of Khuza'ah, 3 August 2018:
On Friday, 3 August 2018, at around 5:00 P.M., Suhayb Abu Kashef (16) from Khan Yunis arrived at a demonstration north of the town of Khuza’ah. Abu Kashef, who had a conduct disorder, went over to the fence. Together with some other youths, he crossed the concertina wire laid by the military close to the fence, while hurling stones with a slingshot at Israeli security forces stationed on the other side of the fence. After they passed the concertina wire, the troops opened heavy fire at them, hitting Abu Kashef in the neck. Maryam Abu Musa (56), a widowed mother of six is a former teacher and a neighbor of Abu Kashef.
She related in a testimony she gave B'Tselem field researcher Khaled al-'Azayzeh on 18 September 2018.
We got up to the concertina wire that was laid on the ground. Some young men torched tires next to it and we shouted slogans, demanding we be allowed to fulfill our right to return to our lands. Opposite us, on the other side of the fence, I saw some earth mounds and groups of soldiers standing on them. I also saw several soldiers holding cameras. To the west of where they were standing I saw a tank and two military jeeps on patrol. Every now and then, soldiers got out and opened fire at the protesters.
At approximately 6:00-6:30 P.M., Suhayb and some other young guys crossed the concertina wire. Suhayb was throwing stones with a slingshot. When they got close to the fence, the soldiers opened heavy live gunfire. Suhayb was hit in the neck. He put his hand on his neck and fell over. The young men picked him up and carried him back towards the ambulance. He was still conscious and bleeding from the neck. I saw another five youths injured in the same incident.
I ran to the ambulance to see how he was doing. While they were trying to give him medical aid, I called his mother and told her he'd been injured and that he might die, because I realized it was serious. About half an hour after the ambulance left, Suhayb's mother called me and said that some young men had told her he'd only been hit in the legs. They wanted to soften the blow. I told her: "No. Your son is a martyr. Drop everything and go to the European Hospital."
A neighbor of the Abu Kashef family, Yasser Abu Sablah (27), a married father of three and laborer from Khan Yunis, was standing several dozen meters from the fence at the time Abu Kashef was shot. In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Khaled al-'Azayzeh on 18 September 2018, he described what he saw:
At around 6:30 P.M., I saw our neighbors' son, Suhayb Abu Kashef, move forward and cross the concertina wire. He threw stones at the soldiers, but they didn't reach them. When Suhayb and another group of guys got close to the fence, the soldiers opened fire at them and Suhayb was hit in the neck. I was standing about twenty meters behind him. I saw him put his hand to his neck, take a few steps back and collapse. He was carried to an ambulance and I ran there with the other guys. I was shocked and didn't know what to do, because I knew him really well. He took part in all the demonstrations, every Friday, and got hurt inhaling teargas several times.
Abu Kashef was intubated and taken to the European Hospital in Khan Yunis, where the doctors found he was paralyzed from the neck down. On 29 August he was transferred to a hospital in Hebron, where he underwent X-rays and other examinations and then sent back to the European Hospital in Khan Yunis on 13 September. He died of his wounds there on 15 September 2018.
Suhayb's mother, Nisreen Abu Kashef (42), a married mother of nine, related in a testimony she gave B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 10 October 2018:
Suhayb took part in the Return Protests since they began, and was hurt several times from inhaling teargas. He used to go to eastern Khan Yunis, to the Khuza’ah area. I always tried to stop him from going there, because I was afraid. I had a feeling he could get hurt and I kept telling him: "You'll be crippled, like a lot of other protesters,” because a lot of people have been seriously injured in the Return Protests. But Suhayb wouldn't listen to me. He insisted on going, with the neighbors and other kids from the neighborhood. They would take the organized rides, on buses, to eastern Khan Yunis. On Friday, 3 August 2018, he left for the protest at 4:30 P.M. with his friends. When I tried to stop him from going, he told me they were heading to the beach and that he wouldn't attend the protests any more.
At 6:00 P.M., Mrs. Maryam Abu Musa, who also takes part in the protests, called me. She said Suhayb had been badly injured. I immediately went to the European Hospital and found Suhayb in the CT room. I went in and asked how he was doing. The doctors said he was okay but that didn’t put my mind at rest, because my son was unable to talk or move his hands and legs. He was taken to the ICU because he was in critical condition and intubated. Two days later, the doctors said Suhayb was paralyzed in all four limbs. I was shocked. I cried a lot, because Suhayb was also in a lot of pain from the injury. He stayed in the hospital until 29 August but did not improve, so he was transferred to al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron. I went with him and he stayed there for fourteen days. He had a tube inserted into his lung to drain fluid and a feeding tube attached directly to his stomach.
I was by his side the whole time. He was exhausted. He lost weight. I supported him emotionally, made sure he kept up his spirits, so he wouldn't go into shock or sink into depression. It was a difficult, tiring time for both Suhyab and myself. I felt that Suhayb was going to go away and leave me. I was willing to accept that he'd stay as he was, as long as he didn't die. I couldn't bear the idea of saying goodbye to him.
By 13 September 2018, Suhayb could talk again and insisted we return to Gaza, even though he was in terrible condition. He was taken straight to the European Hospital in Gaza. I never left his side. On 15 September, he was in very bad shape but I had to go, because I have a ten-month-old baby girl at home. Both his brothers stayed with him. I told them: "Keep a close watch on Suhayb, because his condition looks critical. Call me if anything happens." I called them from home whenever I had a moment to spare to check up on him. They kept saying he was very tired.
At 11:30 P.M., my cellphone rang. No one calls me at that hour. I jumped out of bed and thought that it must be it, that Suhayb had become a martyr.
I was right. When I answered, one of my sons told me Suhayb had passed away. What did he do to deserve this? All he did was take part in an unarmed protest. Why do they aim at women and teenagers? A stone that some kid throws doesn't reach the spot where the Israeli soldier is standing! Suhaybe wasn't endangering the Israeli army. He wasn't holding a knife or any other weapon. Now I never let go of my phone. I keep watching video footage and photos of Suhayb in hospital in Gaza and in Hebron. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night to watch them over and over. I keep looking at his photos and crying. It hurts so much. It's very hard for me to say goodbye to him. He left a gaping hole in my life. He was always smiling and laughing. I really miss his smile, his laughter. Who took all that away from me? The Israeli army. They took away my dream of seeing him get married and start a family, of seeing him for the rest of my life.