As the world watches the thousands-strong demonstrations at Gaza’s border with Israel, images and videos that have emerged since the protests began have sparked fresh debate about Israel’s use of force against Palestinians.
The latest alarming video, making the rounds on Monday, appears to show a Palestinian man standing still on the Gaza side of the security fence that divides the territory from Israel. Behind the camera, Israeli soldiers can be heard discussing shooting the man. After the sound of a gunshot, he falls to the ground.
“Wow, what a video. Yes! Son of a bitch! What a video,” one of the voices cheers in Hebrew, according to a Reuters translation of the comments.
It was not initially clear when or where the video was taken, but it drew attention after 10 days of protests in Gaza, during which some 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.
The Israel Defense Forces said Monday that the video appeared to have been taken months ago and on Tuesday confirmed that it was from December 2017, when other protests had erupted in Gaza, Haaretz reported. After a preliminary inquiry, the military cleared the shooter, saying he acted after other steps had been taken to warn the man away from the security fence. They said the man was shot in the leg.
“The sniper deserves an honor and the cameraman a demerit,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday at an event in northern Israel, according to the Times of Israel.
When the specifics of the video were still unclear, human rights groups said it showed just one instance among many of Israeli forces using undue lethal force against Palestinian protesters.
“Incidents such as the one in the video published [Monday] occurred hundreds of times over the past few weeks in the Gaza Strip, causing death and injuries — with the full support of policymakers and top military officials,” Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement.
Other images and videos have emerged over the last dozen days depicting Palestinians shot by the Israeli military during the current protests, driving a fierce discussion over the military’s response to unarmed demonstrators. One video appeared to show an unarmed protester being shot. Other photos captured a Palestinian journalist after he was shot while covering the unrest.
Warning: The photo below is graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have participated in protests along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Held under the name “The Great March of Return,” the protests are meant to last until Nakba Day on May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the displacement of their people during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
In addition to the at least 30 Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli military, hundreds more have been wounded during the demonstrations. Israel’s response to the protests has drawn international concern, with the European Union stating Saturday that there were “serious questions about the proportionate use of force.” Human rights groups have called out the Israeli military’s use of gunfire against Palestinian demonstrators “who posed no imminent threat to life.”
On Sunday, the Israeli military said it was launching an investigation into its response to the protests, Haaretz reported.
In one of the first videos to emerge from the protests ― posted to YouTube on March 31 ― a young man was shown apparently carrying a tire and running away from the fence on Gaza’s border when he suddenly collapsed. The person shot and killed was 19-year-old Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi, his family told The Washington Post.
“He had no gun, no Molotov, a tire. Does that harm the Israelis, a tire?” Abdul Nabi’s brother Mohamed, 22, told the Post. “He wasn’t going toward the Israeli side. He was running away.”
Over the past weekend, other images circulated on social media and in news outlets worldwide showing Palestinian journalist and photographer Yasser Murtaja wounded after being shot by Israeli forces in Friday’s demonstrations. He eventually died. In the photos, Murtaja can be seen lying on a stretcher, with the word “PRESS” written in large print across his vest.
The Israel military said it was looking into that incident. On Tuesday, Israel’s defense chief claimed that Murtaja was a paid member of Hamas ― the militant group that controls Gaza and that the U.S. considers a terrorist group ― but offered no proof. The media group that Murtaja co-founded, Ain Media, had recently received a grant from the U.S. government and had been strictly vetted, The Associated Press reported.
While Palestinian groups have painted the protests as peaceful, Israel said demonstrators have thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks, burned tires and attempted to break through the border security fence, The Washington Post reported. Israel also claimed Hamas was using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks. Hamas confirmed that several members of its military arm had been killed in Israel’s crackdown on the protests.