A man with no legs, shot in the head, is the perfectly harrowing metaphor for life in Gaza, and for Palestinians on a whole. Helpless, Static. Stunted. And hunted.
Opinion: the Israeli military took his legs, then his life
The Israeli army sharpshooter couldn’t target the lower part of his victim’s body — Ibrahim Abu Thuraya didn’t have one. The 29-year-old, who worked washing cars and who lived in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp, lost both legs from the hips down in an Israeli airstrike during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. He used a wheelchair to get around. On Friday the army finished the job: A sharpshooter aimed at his head and shot him dead.
The images are horrific: Abu Thuraya in his wheelchair, pushed by friends, calling for protests against the U.S. declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; Abu Thuraya on the ground, crawling toward the fence behind which the Gaza Strip is imprisoned; Abu Thuraya waving a Palestinian flag; Abu Thuraya holding up both arms in the victory sign; Abu Thuraya carried by his friends, bleeding to death; Abu Thuraya’s corpse laid out on a stretcher: The End.
The army sharpshooter couldn’t aim at the lower part of his victim’s body on Friday so he shot him in the head and killed him.
It can be assumed that the soldier realized that he was shooting at a person in a wheelchair, unless he was shooting indiscriminately into the crowd of protesters.
Abu Thuraya posed no danger to anyone: How much of a danger could a double amputee in a wheelchair, imprisoned behind a fence, constitute? How much evil and insensitivity does it take in order to shoot a handicapped person in a wheelchair? Abu Thuraya was not the first, nor will he be the last, Palestinian with disabilities to be killed by soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces — the most moral soldiers in the world, or not.
The killing of the young disabled man passed almost without mention in Israel. He was one of three demonstrators killed Friday, just another humdrum day. One can easily imagine what would happen if Palestinians had killed an Israeli who used a wheelchair. What a furor would have erupted, with endless ink spilled on their cruelty and barbarism. How many arrests would have resulted, how much blood would have flowed in retaliation. But when soldiers behave barbarically, Israel is silent and shows no interest. No shock, no shame, no pity. An apology or expression of regret or remorse is the stuff of fantasy. The idea of holding those responsible for this criminal killing accountable is also delusional. Abu Thuraya was a dead man once he dared take part in his people’s protest and his killing is of no interest to anyone, since he was a Palestinian.
The Gaza Strip has been closed to Israeli journalists for 11 years, so one can only imagine the life of the car-washer from Shati before his death — how he recovered from his injuries in the absence of decent rehabilitation services in the besieged Strip, with no chance of obtaining prosthetic legs; how he rumbled along in an old wheelchair, not an electric one, in the sandy alleys of his camp; how he continued washing cars despite his disability, since there are no other choices in Shati, including for people with disabilities; and how he continued struggling with his friends, despite his disability.
No Israeli could imagine life in that cage, the biggest in the world, the one called the Gaza Strip. It is part of a never-ending mass experiment on human beings.
One should see the desperate young people who approached the fence in Friday’s demonstration, armed with stones that couldn’t reach anywhere, throwing them through the cracks in the bars behind which they are trapped.
These young people have no hope in their lives, even when they have two legs to walk on. Abu Thuraya had even less hope.
There is something pathetic yet dignified in the photo of him raising the Palestinian flag, given his dual confinement — in his wheelchair and in his besieged country.
The story of Abu Thuraya is an accurate reflection of the circumstances of his people. Shortly after he was photographed, his tormented life came to an end. When people cry out every week: “Netanyahu to Maasiyahu [prison]” someone should finally also start talking about The Hague.
Opinion: The shooting of a legless man
The car headlights picked out two soldiers in the darkness, carrying guns and other equipment at the entrance to the overcrowded and dense West Bank town of A-Ram. Our eyes met for a fleeting moment, as they say. Their faces expressed that familiar mixture of arrogance, ignorance and fear. How young they look, I thought. I also considered what everyone who drives past soldiers thinks these days: One slight deviation of the car and they’ll assume this lady is hell-bent on running them over. A subsequent Military Police investigation will determine they felt their lives were endangered and so they acted properly. Focus on steering, I told myself, thinking again about how young they were.
It’s doubtful you’d have seen any fear in the eyes of the Israeli soldiers who shot to death Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, 29, on Friday. They were on the other side of the border fence, east of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza. Perhaps they were in an observation tower. Maybe on a hill or in an armored jeep, which fired in bursts at the Palestinian demonstrators.
What danger did Abu Thuraya pose? He stood out among the crowd of demonstrators, for sure: A double amputee, he was advancing in his wheelchair, getting off it and moving quickly with the aid of his arms, going eastward across a sandy mound. Did his courage and fearlessness unsettle a soldier on the Israeli side of the fence?
Abu Thuraya had been seriously wounded during the 2008-09 Israeli offensive in Gaza, when he lost both legs. A story on the Palestinian Al Watan news website in 2015 reported that he and his friends were the targets of Israeli shelling on the Bureij refugee camp. He later recovered from his serious injuries and made a living by cleaning car windows on Gaza’s streets, maneuvering among the cars in his wheelchair. Undated video footage shows him climbing up an electricity pole near the Gaza border and flying a flag. In another video, probably recorded on Friday, he is seen in his wheelchair on an exposed spot across from the perimeter fence, again waving a Palestinian flag.
At midday on Friday, he was saying to a TV camera that the demonstration was a message to the Zionist occupation army that “This is our land and we won’t surrender.” Edited footage shows him in his wheelchair later, surrounded by dozens of upset youngsters. His head is drooping, and they lift him to an ambulance and accompany him to a hospital. He was pronounced dead that evening, killed by a bullet to the head.
Did the edited video omit some incriminating footage? For example, did Abu Thuraya aim a rocket at the soldiers? If that was the reason a soldier shot a legless man in a wheelchair, this was a failure of the army and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories spokesmen. Why didn’t they issue a statement to the media about the thwarting of a rocket attack by demonstrators, thus preventing any harm befalling our soldiers?
Back in the West Bank, a tingling in the nose alerted me to the presence of soldiers on the road leading to the Jalazun refugee camp – meaning there were stone throwers there, too. But there was no turning back. The wafting tear gas increased in intensity and the road ahead curved. On one side, behind some houses, crouched some youths – and they were very young. They were holding stones but not throwing them at the time. On the other side, near a wall that protects the settlement of Beit El, stood a formidable-looking armored personnel carrier with a few soldiers alongside it. Perhaps they were Border Policemen (my sense of panic made me forget some of the details). Under their helmets and from a distance, it was hard to determine how young they were. But their arrogance and ignorance was evident in their stance.
My attempt to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem on Friday (for a concert and children’s choir performance) was unsuccessful. At an intersection on the way to the Beit El checkpoint, a few young men – how young they were – pulled some tires out of a car with the intention of torching them. I understood what was happening and turned back toward Qalandiyah. The traffic was slow.
At one spot worshippers were emerging from a mosque, and at another people walked in the middle of the road carrying baskets from the market. Elsewhere, there were double-parked cars or men coming out of a festivities hall carrying disposable coffee cups and pieces of cake. An ambulance, sirens blaring, was coming from the direction of the checkpoint, signaling what lay ahead. A few dozen meters up the road, a cloud of tear gas was clearly visible. Any desire I had to explore the situation at any of the other exits from the five-star prison that is Ramallah had passed. It was later announced that one person died at the Beit El checkpoint and another was seriously wounded in Qalandiyah.
On a morning excursion with friends on Friday, he said: “On the one hand, I know I should be there with those courageous young people at the checkpoint. On the other, I know that only through hundreds of thousands going there, hands in pockets, will anything change.”
She added, “Once, we used to hear about one person being wounded in Gaza and the whole of the West Bank was inflamed. Now, we hear of someone dying in Ramallah or a young person losing an eye because of a tear-gas canister and all we do is shake our heads in sympathy and get on with our lives.”
A person living on a street next to the Beit El checkpoint opened his door to those fleeing the clouds of tear gas. The alcohol-soaked handkerchief passed around by a paramedic helped, but it was only inside the house that the tears and burning sensation subsided.
“Our leadership is cut off,” the host declared. “It doesn’t care about the people, only about the money and the jobs. I can’t tell the young people not to go to the checkpoints, but I know their courage is in vain.”
Amira Hass is the Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Territories. Born in Jerusalem in 1956, Hass joined Haaretz in 1989, and has been in her current position since 1993. As the correspondent for the territories, she spent three years living in Gaza, which served of the basis for her widely acclaimed book, “Drinking the Sea at Gaza.” She has lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 1997. Hass is also the author of two other books, both of which are compilations of her articles.
In Gaza, Israel is shooting fish in a barrel
Israeli soldiers shot in the head and killed Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, 29, a man with no legs, who was holding a Palestinian flag near the Gaza border fence on Friday.
Abu Thurayeh, who according to several sources lost his legs and vision in one eye during an Israeli air strike in 2008 during Operation Cast Lead, was killed by Israeli soldiers while protesting along the Gaza border fence along with some 3,500 other Palestinians.
Following the incident, the IDF Spokesperson’s official statement to press read as follows: “During the violent riots, IDF soldiers fired selectively towards the main instigators.” (emphasis mine)
The IDF “selectively” chose to shoot a man behind a fence — a man who cannot run, who appeared only to be armed with a flag and his voice. Abu Thurayeh is the perfectly harrowing metaphor for the state of life for Palestinians in Gaza, and for Palestinians on a whole. Helpless, Static. Stunted.
And his killing perfectly sums up Israel’s treatment of Palestinians: monstrous.
What threat could he have possibly posed that merits a bullet in the head? It is unfathomable. In Gaza, Israel is shooting fish in a barrel.
I cannot get this story out of my head. And there have many others like it in recent days.
In the last 10 days since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there has been a flood of violent, graphic, harrowing images of Palestinians wounded by Israeli forces in Gaza, Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem. Many of the images are of teenage boys as well as minors. Children.
There was the photo of a Palestinian teenager, assaulted, blindfolded, handcuffed, and surrounded by dozens of heavily armed soldiers. The photo went viral.
There were videos of Palestinian children as young as seven and eight being dragged away by Israeli soldiers.
caption: Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth during a protest against Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Hebron, West Bank, December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
There was the video of Israeli soldiers stopping a Red Crescent ambulance at gunpoint and violently pulling out two teenage girls to detain them.
These acts happen all the time, but we are seeing them at increasing frequency now.
In the PR war waged by Israel and its defenders, even those who go to great lengths to present equivalency of imagery cannot produce anything that comes close — no matter how hard they try. There is simply no comparison, no matter how hard one tries to create equivalency between Israelis and Palestinians. Not in real life, and not in images.
Israel and its defenders cannot equivocate or play down the sheer brutality and coldblooded nature of their state’s actions captured in this image. It is impossible to do so, because there is only one way to understand this reality.