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Shooting, injury, and damage to a dead body – the price of Israel’s policy of holding bodies

On Sunday morning, 23 February 2020, at around 6:00 A.M., soldiers fired live rounds and a missile at two Islamic Jihad operatives east of ‘Abasan al-Jadida in the southern Gaza Strip. Th...
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Shooting, injury, and damage to a dead body – the price of Israel’s policy of holding bodies

On Sunday morning, 23 February 2020, at around 6:00 A.M., soldiers fired live rounds and a missile at two Islamic Jihad operatives east of ‘Abasan al-Jadida in the southern Gaza Strip. The military claims the operatives had attempted to plant explosives near the perimeter fence and that they fled after the shooting, at which point the soldiers fired at them again. One operative, Muhammad a-Na’am, 27, was killed and the other wounded. Soon after, local residents and several ambulances arrived. The paramedics waited for clearance from the military to evacuate the body and the injured man, who were about 100 meters west of the fence, within the Gaza Strip. B’Tselem’s investigation found that meanwhile, some residents tried to evacuate the two on their own, but soldiers opened fire at them. The injured man managed to crawl some 15 meters and get closer to the crowd of people that had gathered, and they took him away to receive medical treatment.

B’Tselem’s investigation, as well as video footage circulated by the media, indicate that at around 7:30 A.M., as the military had not given clearance and the body was still lying on the ground, several young men made another attempt to approach the area. The soldiers fired again, this time injuring two of them:

Initially, five young men, three of them friends and members of the same family from Khuza’ah – Muhammad a-Najar, 19, Ahmad a-Najar, 20, and Mu’taz a-Najar, 21 – tried to approach the body. Some of them took off their outerwear and remained in undershirts or T-shirts. They advanced carrying a stretcher, with one of them holding his hands up in the air to signal to the soldiers they were unarmed. Nevertheless, the soldiers fired at them and at the ground near them. The men continued to make their way to the body and raised it onto the stretcher. At that point, the soldiers fired at them again, injuring Muhammad a-Najar in both legs. The men laid down a-Na’am’s body and took a-Najar to a car that then drove him to an ambulance. He was taken to hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from the bullet that hit both his legs.

Muhammad a-Najar in the hospital. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 25 Feb. 2020

In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 25 February 2020, Muhammad a-Najar recounted:

Some other people and I took a stretcher and walked towards the person who was lying on the ground. We raised the stretcher and one of us raised his hands in the air to show the soldiers we had nothing else in our hands and were coming to carry away the dead man. When we got up to a distance of about 15 meters from him, shots were fired in our direction, and I saw bullets hitting the ground near us. We kept on going towards the dead man. I was really scared they’d hurt us, because we were exposed to the soldiers and to the tank behind the fence.

When we got to the dead man, we put his body on the stretcher. We walked for a few meters and then they fired at us again. Ahmad a-Najar tripped and the stretcher slipped out of our hands. We were frightened and nervous. We put the body back on the stretcher and kept walking, but after a few more steps, they fired at us again. I was hit in both legs. I saw they were bleeding. It hurt a lot, and I couldn’t stand or move. We put the stretcher down and Ahmad and Mu’taz picked me up and carried me to a car that was by the road. Ahmad went with me. I was taken to a nearby ambulance that drove me to the European Hospital in Gaza.

After Muhammad a-Najar was evacuated, Mu’taz a-Najar returned with several other young men to evacuate a-Na’am’s body. Just then, a tank and a bulldozer crossed the fence and drove towards them, with soldiers firing live rounds at them from small arms and from a machine gun mounted on the tank. The bulldozer chased Mu’taz, who was hit in the leg by a live bullet and evacuated, and the rest of the men backed away.

Mu’taz a-Najar in the hospital. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 25 Feb. 2020

In a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 25 February 2020, Mu’taz a-Najar described what happened:

After Ahmad and Muhammad got into the ambulance, I came back with some guys to take the body. On the way, we heard gunshots and then I saw a bulldozer and a tank outside the fence. I tried to get the body, but the bulldozer advanced towards me and I was scared the driver would kill me with its blade. The machine gun on the tank fired. I went closer and dragged the body for less than a meter, and then a bullet hit my left leg and crossed into my right leg. I ran away limping. After a few meters, the guys took me to an ambulance. My leg was bleeding and it hurt a lot. The ambulance took me to the European Hospital, where I underwent surgery. they implanted metal plates in my left leg, from below the knee to the ankle. 

Video footage circulated by the media shows the bulldozer, after the shooting, approaching one of the young men trying to evacuate the body. The bulldozer is then seen pushing the body along the ground, tossing it around and ravaging it until it is finally scooped up by the blade and carried away.

The soldiers used live fire against the men who tried to evacuate the wounded Islamic Jihad operative and Muhammad a-Na’am’s body despite the fact that the force was in no danger whatsoever and for the sole purpose of preventing the evacuation, which makes the shooting illegal and immoral. The same holds true for the refusal to allow paramedics to evacuate the wounded operative and the body in an area where the military requires such coordination. On top of it all, the grotesque chase that saw a military tank and bulldozer entering the Gaza Strip simply to snatch a-Na’am’s body and the body’s desecration, in and of themselves, defy any conceivable legal or moral principle.

Considering that the residents approached the body without fear, the military’s feeble excuse for using the bulldozer, “fear that members of the cell had additional bombs that could be detonated near the soldiers remotely while they were removing the body”, is exactly that - an excuse. This body snatching incident is not an aberration, but part of Israel’s official policy, championed by Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett who said Israel was hoarding “terrorists’ bodies to hurt and pressure the other side”, and that, “as long as they don’t release the bodies of our soldiers, we won’t release their bodies.” This policy was upheld by the High Court of Justice which offered an unreasonable interpretation of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations and ignored both the provisions of international law and fundamental principles the Supreme Court itself established over the years.