“A Source of Positivity All the Time”: Remembering Palestinian Medic Razan al-Najjar, Killed by IDF

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Witnesses say Israeli soldiers shot dead 21-year-old Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar as she ran toward the border fence to provide medical aid to a wounded protester. Since nonviolent protests began at the end of March, Israeli soldiers have killed at least 119 people, including 14 children. More than 13,000 have been wounded. “It was clear to everybody that she was a paramedic, that that was murder. I mean, that was a crime committed before cameras,” said Dr. Medhat Abbas, director of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip. We also speak with Najjar’s cousin, Dalia al-Najjar, who says the response of the international community to the Gaza crisis has been “really disappointing,” and notes the U.S. vetoed a draft U.N. resolution urging the protection of Palestinians on Friday, the same day Najjar was killed. “It’s a shameful side that the United States decided to take.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today in Gaza, where thousands attended a funeral Saturday for 21-year-old Palestinian volunteer medic Razan al-Najjar. Witnesses say she was shot dead Friday by Israeli soldiers as she ran toward the border fence to provide medical aid to a wounded protester.

This is a description of the attack from James Heenan, head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: quote, “Reports indicate that Razan was assisting injured demonstrators and wearing her first responder clothing, clearly distinguishing her as a healthcare worker even from a distance. Reports suggest that she was shot about 100 meters from the fence. Under international human rights law, which applies in this context along with international humanitarian law, lethal force may only be used as a last resort and when there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury. It is very difficult to see how Razan posed such a threat to heavily-armed, well-protected Israeli forces in defensive positions on the other side of the fence,” Heenan said.

Najjar was taken to a hospital, where she died from her injuries. Her mother held her daughter’s blood-stained medical vest as she spoke with reporters and demanded justice.

SABREEN AL-NAJJAR: [translated] The whole world saw what happened to my daughter, and I call for international protection. Where is this international protection? Where are the human rights? How was my daughter a threat? What was her weapon? This is her weapon, this medical equipment. This is my daughter’s weapon. This is what she was resisting with. On what basis did the soldier kill her? She has been targeted since the first day of protest. So many times she has survived death. She would come through and tell me what she went through. May God account every person who is silent about this.

AMY GOODMAN: In total, the Israeli military has killed at least 119 Palestinians, wounded more than 13,000 more, as part of the brutal crackdown against the Palestinians’ ongoing nonviolent Great March of Return protest demanding an end to the Israeli occupation. The Israeli military says its troops worked, quote, “in accordance with standard operating procedures,” unquote, but said Saturday it would investigate her death.

A volunteer ambulance worker told the Associated Press he and Najjar were planning to announce their engagement at the end of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Friday, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel’s, quote, “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force,” unquote, against Palestinians. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said the resolution was “one-sided.”

On Sunday, Israeli air forces fired at Hamas sites in Gaza, after they said militants fired rockets at Israel. Also Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted he had reduced the tax funds shared with Palestinians in order to compensate Israelis living near the Gaza Strip who say their property was damaged by fires caused by kites rigged with incendiary devices or attached to burning rags.

Well, in a minute, we’ll go to Gaza. But first we want to turn to Razan al-Najjar in her own words. This is an excerpt from her interview with The New York Times, when she said Gaza needed more female medics like herself.

RAZAN AL-NAJJAR: [translated] Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too. Sometimes the injured are women. Who will treat them? Yes, a man can. But we have a big role here. We have one goal: to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything. …

This is the tent where the volunteers work daily. We volunteer here every day. We do this for our love for the country. It’s humanitarian work. We don’t do it for money, we do it for God. We don’t want to get paid or be employed. People ask my dad what I’m doing here, and without getting a salary. He tells them, “I’m proud of my daughter. She provides care to the children of our country.” And especially because in our society, women are often judged. But society has to accept us. If they don’t want to accept us by choice, they will be forced to accept us, because we have more strength than any man. The strength that I showed as a first responder on the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Dr. Medhat Abbas, the director of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip. Also joining us, from Istanbul, Turkey, is Dalia al-Najjar, Razan’s cousin. She’s co-founder of Xyla Water, an organization dedicated to making clean water accessible around the world. She works with everyone from, oh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Lahore University.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dalia, let’s go to you first, in Istanbul. Razan was your cousin. Can you talk about what we just heard, Razan describing what she felt was her obligation to be a paramedic, and who she was?

DALIA AL-NAJJAR: Thank you. Razan was a very strong-minded girl, since she was very young. She always had dreams. She loved life. She was a source of positivity all the time. And being a nurse was one of her dreams. She worked hard to be one. She couldn’t get a degree in nursing, unfortunately, because of the financial situations her family were living under. And then she went and got training in nursing for two years, and she worked as a volunteer for two years without being paid. And then she felt it’s her duty to be a first responder, because it’s everyone’s duty. Everyone has a role in what’s going on. And she felt that she can do what she’s best at by being a first responder. She was one of the first female first responders.

And she inspired many people. I heard stories from her colleagues saying that other first responders used to motivate each other by mentioning her and talking about her. If anyone is sitting, they would tell him, “Come on, Razan broke her wrist, and yet she completed her shift.” So, she’s a source of inspiration for everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Razan al-Najjar in her own words, talking about her life as a volunteer field medic in Gaza. She was speaking to TRT World, weeks before she was shot and killed by Israeli forces Friday.

RAZAN AL-NAJJAR: [translated] With all pride, I want to continue helping others 'til the last day. I'm paramedic Razan al-Najjar. I’m 20 years old, working here as a field paramedic.

The first day was the hardest for me. I suffocated from tear gas three times. The entire medical team was targeted. A colleague was shot in the back, and my friend, a nurse, was shot in the hand, and another colleague was shot near the ear. We gave them first aid in the field, and then we continued our work. We sent them to the hospitals and carried on in our work.

Today I was almost shot, but, thanks for God’s mercy, I was safe. And also yesterday, I was suffocated from the tear gas. I fainted for about an hour. I woke up in an ambulance, and I left it. I went crazy, because I wanted to continue my work and my journey. I came to give care, not to get care. With all pride, I want to continue ’til the last day.

AMY GOODMAN: That, again, was Razan al-Najjar speaking. She was killed on Friday by an Israeli military sniper. Dalia, Razan’s mother said, “I wish I could have seen her in her white wedding dress, not her shroud.” She was about to get engaged, after Ramadan?

DALIA AL-NAJJAR: Yes, true. One of her colleagues, a medic, as well, was interested in her. And they were to call their engagement after Ramadan.

AMY GOODMAN: You spoke to Razan’s mother on Sunday night. Can you tell us about your conversation and what she said to you, your aunt?

DALIA AL-NAJJAR: She told me that we really need to work hard to get this story heard and to get Razan’s message heard. Everyone needs to know the truth. And we need to work collectively to call for justice and to hold the responsible parties accountable for this war crime.

AMY GOODMAN: She said to you, “You are Razan now. Hold the torch and keep fighting,” Dalia?

DALIA AL-NAJJAR: Yes. I broke down while talking to her, and she was calming me down. And she told me, “Now you are Razan. You guys used to play together all the time as young people, and I see you as Razan now. And I want you to continue her fight and to continue sharing her message to the world.”

AMY GOODMAN: I understand that she was also injured on previous days, as she worked as a medic in Gaza. One of our previous guests, Dr. Tarek Loubani, tweeted she previously “fainted twice due to gas inhalation, while on April 13 she broke her wrist after falling while running to attend to a wounded protester.” I want to turn now to Dr. Medhat Abbas, director of the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza. Can you talk about Razan’s commitment? Talk about what you understand happened to her on Friday. And was she taken to Shifa?

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: No, she was not taken to our hospital. She was taken to another hospital based in Rafah City—it’s called the European Gaza Hospital—when, in fact, she was shot by an explosive bullet that penetrated her heart and came out from her back. And the only thing she did was she pointed to something on her back. And then she fell on the ground, and then she died at once.

And, I mean, she was—as it’s mentioned in this report, that she was clearly in a white coat. It was clear to everybody that she’s a paramedic, that that was a murder. I mean, that was a crime committed before cameras. And because the Israelis usually run with it, so they keep repeating that. I mean, another first rescuer was killed—he was called Moussa al-Zaaneen—the same way also: He was shot dead while trying to rescue some of the victims among the protesters. But the same thing.

They have been targeting some of the trauma-stabilizing points that we have tents in the buffer zones, in those tents we use to treat those victims of the Israeli aggression against our people, while at the same time usually they target those tents by gas, by tear gas. And, unfortunately, we gave the Israelis the GPS through the ICRC, but, again, they are still insisting to target the medics and paramedics everywhere, wherever they are. And we will never, ever forget the war of the 2014, where they targeted complete hospitals. They demolished a hospital, called al-Wafa Hospital, totally. And they attacked other three hospitals with partial destruction. I mean, so it’s not the first time where they attacked medics and paramedics and health facilities.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can we talk about what has taken place over the weeks since March 30th, March 30th to May 15th, the 6-week nonviolent protest called the Great March of Return? Up until now, are your figures 119 Palestinians dead and 13,000 wounded?

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: Yes, 13,700 almost and 123 today killed. In fact, before the March of Return, we’ve been living under a blockade for 10 years, more than one decade, more than a decade. And the poverty is prevailing. The unemployment is prevailing. And we’ve been suffering a shortage of medicine and a restriction of movement of people across borders, because our borders are sealed most of the time. So it was a very miserable situation before the March of Return. When after the March of Return started, then the people start to—we have never, ever thought that the people would be targeted like that way. Well, just we thought they might use some tear gas, and that was the only thing we thought that may be used. But we were shocked by the large numbers of casualties arriving to our hospitals in serious condition. On the first day, they killed almost 30 persons, and they wounded 1,500 or 1,700. And the numbers start to mount every week, until we reach now a tragedy.

And in the health sector, on the other side, we’ve been suffering. Our staff are working without salaries most of the time. They are just taking some stipends, which are not enough to meet any of their financial needs. And because of—and we have shortage of electricity, shortage of maintenance and spare parts. Everything is quite difficult in our hospitals. And the total bed capacity that we have is 2,200 beds. Imagine that we have admitted 7,000 victims of this aggression in the last two months. So, I remember Monday of the 14th of May, where we received 3,000 injured, and we lost—almost 63 were killed that day, that the people were thrown in the ground, in their blood. I mean, it was just a very miserable situation that our capacity was full. In my hospital, where I have 14 operation rooms, all of them were operating along the hour. And the victims were thrown on the ground. We have no rooms to treat them. There was no way. Our triage tent, that was expanded, was full of them.

And usually, because they use many kind of bullets, but there’s a kind that they use which is called the explosive bullet, which will take out the bone and the blood vessels and leave nothing in the limb. They use to target the extremities, the lower limbs in particular. There is an artery called popliteal artery and another one called the femoral artery. Once they are targeted, the patient will arrive to the hospitals with hemorrhagic shock, and it will be very difficult to save their lives. And we have been existing too much effort to save the limbs of those people. But ’til now, we lost 33 limbs, were amputated during this aggression.

And still they are not denying their intention to continue targeting the civilians at the border side. Of course, as it is quite clear that it is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which will protect all the medical personnel in the fields, and it also should protect the civilians everywhere during conflict times. But, in fact, we are shocked, and we condemn, by all the words, what’s been happening today. And, believe me, we feel so sad by the United States backing them in the United Nations, where the only thing that was required is just to protect civilians. We are requiring anything.

The goal of this return march was just to break the siege. We need to be free. They are putting us in this country. We cannot travel. We have no salary. We have no hope. We have no electricity. We have nothing. And we want to be free like any other country in the world. Many, many of those people were children. Many of them were women. Two women were killed since the beginning of the Great March of Return. And the only thing the people are requiring during those demonstrations are to break the siege and to return back to their homeland, which was stated clearly by United Nations Resolution number 194.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Abbas, can you comment on whether you think medical personnel, like Razan, are being targeted? According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, 245 health workers and 40 ambulances have been targeted by Israeli security forces since the Great March of Return began on March 30th. Before you answer, I wanted to turn to Dr. Tarek Loubani. I interviewed him two weeks ago, the emergency room medical doctor, a Canadian-Palestinian doctor. He was one of 19 medical personnel at the time shot in Gaza. Dr. Loubani, an associate professor at Western University in London, Ontario. The medic who went to help him was shot dead an hour later. I asked Dr. Loubani if he felt he was targeted.

DR. TAREK LOUBANI: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know what orders they received or what was in their heads, so I can’t tell you if we were deliberately targeted. What I can tell you is the things that I do know. In the six weeks of the march, there were no paramedic casualties. And in one day, 19 paramedics—18 wounded plus one killed—and myself were all injured, so—or were all shot with live ammunition. We were all—Musa was actually in a rescue at the time, but everybody else I’ve talked to was like me. We were away during a lull, without smoke, without any chaos at all, and we were targeted—and we were, rather, hit by live ammunition, most of us in the lower limbs. So, it’s very, very hard to believe that the Israelis who shot me and the Israelis who shot my other colleagues—just from our medical crew, four of us were shot, including Musa Abuhassanin, who passed away. It’s very hard to believe that they didn’t know who we were, they didn’t know what we were doing, and that they were aiming at anything else.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Dr. Tarek Loubani, who’s back in Canada now. He is a Canadian emergency room doctor, shot in Gaza by an Israeli sniper. Again, the medic—the paramedic who helped him was then shot dead. Dr. Medhat Abbas, do you feel medical personnel are being targeted?

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: Oh, sure. Sure. That cannot be denied. And I’m quite sure that this is goal-directed. It’s an intention. They wanted to scare everybody, so that nobody asks for his rights, for freedom and his right to return back to his homeland. This is the problem. And scaring people like that way is a miserable act. It should be condemned by everybody in the international community. And we received support messages from many NGOs all over the world, communicating with us, say that they offer their solidarity with us.

But again—but still the United States are still insisting to back Israel for what they do, killing civilians. And we hope—we hope that the propaganda that we listen in the media is not right about that the people who are demonstrating are terrorists. No, they are not terrorists. They are unarmed civilians. The only thing they want is their freedom. They are trapped in the biggest prison, air-open prison, in the world. Enough is enough. The people need their freedom. And this is our right, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Medhat Abbas, thousands came out for the funeral of Razan on Saturday. Can you describe what took place?

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: Well, just the people just wanted to express their anger, their condemnation of this act. And everybody—it was like a mass grave in Gaza Strip. Everybody cried for her and for the loss of the others, 123 persons who were killed. Just they were just doing nothing. They were just demonstrating peacefully. There was not a single Israeli soldier on the other side of the border who was wounded or harmed. Just nothing has happened to them. Why to use this excessive force against civilians? That’s not explained. And everybody was condemning that. And the large number is saying that everybody is supporting the medical team, everybody is supporting the right of return, everybody is against the blockade which is imposed on us for more than a decade today. That was the meaning of this demonstration that occurred during the funeral of Razan al-Najjar.

AMY GOODMAN: Razan was shot on the same day that the United States vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution on protection of Palestinians. Your comments, Dr. Abbas?

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: Well, I felt bad. Everybody—I was shocked, really, because nothing—we have just wanted nothing. The only thing that we need protection for our children, for our women, for our dignity, for our life, we need our freedom. That’s all. And we have expected the United States to support us just not to die and to be free. But I don’t know what happened. In fact, we cannot understand this. And really, we feel so bad for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Dalia al-Najjar, speaking to us from Istanbul, Turkey, where you work, co-founder of Xyla Water, where you’re deeply dedicated to making clean water accessible around the world, can you comment on the accessibility of clean water in Gaza?

DALIA AL-NAJJAR: Ninety-seven percent of the water in Gaza are unfit for human consumption. So the water situation in Gaza is really horrible. And I’m exploring solutions and alternatives all the time to try to help, but it’s impossible to do anything in Gaza without lifting the blockade and freeing the people and granting the freedom of movement and the people to be able to bring resources to build and to live normally, actually. I haven’t seen my family in two years. And it’s a really tough time right now, and I can’t be there with them. And so, this is what we need to do. We need to, first of all, to lift the blockade, and then we will find solutions to everything else. Without lifting the blockade, it’s really hard to navigate any solutions for all the problems that—and the crisis that Gaza is suffering from.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on Razan being killed the day that the U.S. vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution on protection of Palestinians?

DALIA AL-NAJJAR: It’s really disappointing. The whole world is watching one country of occupation bullying everyone else, and no one is doing anything. It’s such a shameful—it’s a shameful side that the United States decided to take. And it’s really disappointing. And we wish that they would rethink this and would work toward justice, because peace will never emerge if we keep acting the way people act and the way the political leadership and the world acts. We need people to seek for justice, and this is how peace will be built.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Dr. Medhat Abbas, have Israeli doctors, Israeli hospitals reached out to Shifa—your hospital is the largest medical facility in Gaza—during this time? The director of the International Committee of the Red Cross has said the violence since the Great March of Return has “triggered a health crisis of unprecedented magnitude in this part of the world.”

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: Yeah, it’s a big magnitude. But the problem, as I mentioned, the capacity that we have in our hospital is very limited, and we cannot handle those mounting numbers every Friday. It’s a disaster. And I mentioned that on the 14th of May we were not able to handle most of the cases who were thrown on the ground because our—all of the operation rooms were operating 'til next day morning and were not enough to meet the need of those bleeding victims outside. For that reason, it is still—we are still appealing. And thanks for the ICRC and WHO. They have been supporting us strongly during those events. But, in fact, we have too much needs, which are not yet met because of lack of donors and shortage of funds arriving to Gaza during this crisis. And it was mentioned, we were disappointed. We still need support. We still need our freedom. We still need medications. And we need these borders, the sealed border, to be opened, for God's sake.

AMY GOODMAN: And have any Israeli hospitals or doctors reached out to you to help?

DR. MEDHAT ABBAS: Well, no. No. Sure, no. Not at all. But Palestinians from the West Bank have arrived. Jordan colleagues, they have arrived also, some vascular surgeons. But none of them have arrived to us, no.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Dr. Medhat Abbas, director of the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the largest medical facility there, and Dalia al-Najjar, Razan’s cousin, co-founder of Xyla Water, an organization dedicated to making clean water accessible around the world. We will end with the last photograph of Razan, a photo moments before she was killed.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go south in the United States to Atlanta, Georgia, to speak with the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia. If she wins in November, she will become the first African-American woman governor in U.S. history. We’ll be speaking with Stacey Abrams. Stay with us.

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