Israel insists that throughout the weeks-long campaign its troops have fired only at instigators and that Hamas has been cynically using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks. But military officials have acknowledged shooting some people by mistake due to the crowded and smoky conditions of the protests.
On Saturday, the military said it thwarted a Palestinian attempt to damage the security fence surrounding Gaza and a group of militants briefly entered Israel before fleeing back into Gaza when Israeli troops opened fire.
Palestinians and human rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using excessive force, and of killing unarmed Palestinians who did not pose an imminent threat both in the West Bank and Gaza.
Najjar’s body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag as the funeral procession started from the hospital and passed near her home in Khuzaa, a village near the Khan Younis that is close to the border and has served as one of five protest encampments across Gaza in recent weeks. She was the eldest of six siblings.
“I want the world to hear my voice … what’s my daughter’s fault?” asked her mother Sabreen, dressed in black and seated on a mattress in her living room. “She will leave a large emptiness at home.”
On May 14, when the protests peaked over the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, a 14-year-old girl, Wessal Sheikh Khalil, was the first female protesters to be shot dead. She was among more than 60 people killed that day, the deadliest since a war between Hamas and Israel ended in 2014.
The Gaza protests are being organized by the territory’s militant Hamas leadership and are aimed at drawing attention to the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory. The blockade, meant to weaken Hamas, has caused widespread economic hardship in Gaza. The protesters are also demanding the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants.
Fares al-Kidra, a colleague of Najjar, said they were approaching the fence to evacuate a wounded man and, as they were leaving, three gunshots were heard and Najjar fell to the ground.
Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based rights group, said Najjar was about 328 feet from the fence and wearing a clearly marked paramedic’s vest when she was shot.
Social media videos, and one captured by Associated Press footage, showed Najjar and a cohort of medics walking toward the fence and raising their hands to reach a wounded man lying on the ground. Najjar wore a dark blue headscarf and a white coat with the logo of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, where she volunteered.
Izzat Shatat, 23, a volunteering ambulance worker, said he and Najjar were set to announce their engagement at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. He said he was worried and asked her not to go to the border area Friday but she refused.
“She helped all people. She has never refused to help. She was the first to run toward anybody when he is shot,” he said in tears.