On Friday, 30 March 2018, I went to the area of the Malka Square in the eastern part of Gaza City, near Karni Crossing, to participate in peaceful activity marking Land Day near the border. I set out at 2:30 P.M. and got there around 3:00. I own a plot of land near that spot.
When I got there, I was astounded by the sheer masses of people there. I was surprised. I saw that tents and other structures had been erected for organized activities, because women, children, the elderly and the young had all been invited to participate. I even saw people, especially older folks, who had brought along their ‘return keys’, the keys they’d kept of their homes. There were whole families there, children playing, women preparing food, elderly people sitting in tents telling of the villages and towns they’d been driven out of.
Then I went another 500 meters or so from the tents towards the fence and saw that soldiers were firing at the youths demonstrating there. The youths were about 20 meters from the border, very close to the Israeli soldiers, who had spread out along the other side of the fence behind mounds of earth. I saw maybe ten or twenty soldiers. The youths were waving Palestinian flags and burning tires. Some of the soldiers were snipers who fired live bullets at the youths.
The soldiers fired directly at the demonstrators and hit them in all parts of the body: feet, legs, back and head.
While I was watching the protesters, I saw something horrific: Soldiers fired at a youth and hit him in the chest. He was killed instantly. I picked him up and carried him to the ambulances that were about 50 meters away.
Some of the casualties couldn’t really be treated in the field because they had been so badly injured, because the gunfire was so intense, and because the lay of the land didn’t allow the ambulances to get close.
These were explicitly peaceful demonstrations, but the soldiers of the occupation shot and injured or killed the youths even though they were not endangering them and there was no justification to shoot. Almost every shot injured or killed someone.
I saw about four youths shot by a sniper from behind the mound of earth. They were hit in the legs. The injuries were bad and it was a terrible sight. Some were treated on the spot, but some of them couldn’t be reached, because of the heavy fire and the distance.
There was also teargas. The soldiers hiding behind the mounds of earth fired teargas, but there was also a drone, a model I don’t know, that dropped teargas canisters at the demonstrators which caused severe suffocation, tearing up and fainting. Once in a while, the drones would drop another volley of gas canisters. Some of the injured people were treated immediately and on the spot by medics, but others were too badly injured and they were taken by ambulance to a-Shifaa Hospital.
I got home at about 7:00 P.M. Those were a terrifying few hours. I thought it was going to be a quiet gathering, but it was a horrific experience. The Israeli military’s conduct was brutal and inhuman. The demonstrators weren’t bearing weapons. They were waving Palestinian flags and calling out slogans in praise of the homeland and also calling for peace and living in dignity.
‘Atef Salim Isma’il al-’Ar’ir, 50, a married father of 12, lives in Gaza. He gave his testimony to B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd at his home on 2 April 2018.