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In memory of Razan al-Najjar

The 21-year-old paramedic was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while trying to aid wounded protesters near the Gaza-Israel separation fence. Many Israelis either refuse to believe she was actually killed or claim that her killing was somehow justified.

The photo of Razan that circulated on social media.

The photo of Razan that circulated on social media.

Around two weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine proposed an experiment to a small group of us. Social media has become a boxing ring, she said. The two sides, left and right, dig into their positions and slug it out in the comments — and that’s if they don’t just “block” each other. My friend suggested that for a month, we try to engage in a productive dialogue with right-wingers on Facebook, even with the most combative of commenters. After all, our aim is to change what and how people think, and to do that, we need to speak to other side. Let’s try it, I said, if only for a month — to see what happens.

For the past two days, I’ve been thinking about Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old paramedic shot and killed by Israeli soldiers Friday near the Gaza-Israel separation fence. According to witnesses, she was wearing her white paramedic’s uniform, attempting to treat protesters near the fence when she was shot. Immediately following Razan’s death, her picture appeared everywhere on my Facebook newsfeed. I, too, shared a post with her picture.

The angry responses came quickly.

Here was an opportunity to try out the dialogue experiment my friend had suggested, I thought. Maybe because Razan in her white uniform was so different from the image of the terrorist that the Israeli collective imagination assigned the protesters in Gaza, I hoped there would be an opening for compassion, for second thoughts, for a discourse free from blind hatred.

I was wrong.

Instead, the following responses came pouring in: “What was she doing there in the first place? “Why didn’t she wait for the wounded in the hospital?” “You really think our soldiers kill protesters on purpose?” “That’s how it is in war.” “Hamas makes them to go to these protests.”

The funeral of Razan al-Najjar. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

The funeral of Razan al-Najjar. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

I tried to respond with calm, level-headed answers.

She didn’t wait for the wounded at the hospital because the Israeli army’s massive use of live fire made it necessary for first responders to be in the field — just like Israeli medics would at a mass casualty event.

And no, this is not “how it is in war.” Firstly, this is not a war. This is heavily armed soldiers facing down unarmed protesters. Secondly, even in war there are rules, and sniper fire against medics, journalists and children is a war crime. Hamas did not force her to be there, either; numerous interviews with Razan were published in recent weeks in which she explains why she volunteered as a medic during the protests.

Then the more violent responses came, in public and in private messages — bizarre death threats, a lot of toxic invective. What kind of a dialogue is possible when faced with that?

Someone asked, “How do you know this is true, were you there?” He added a picture from 2001 suicide bombing of the Dolphinarium, a beach-front nightclub in Tel Aviv, to prove some inexplicable point. Another commenter responded, “How do you know there was an attack on the Dolphinarium, were you there?”

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Another yet claimed that the entire story of Razan was fabricated, that they put a paramedic’s uniform on her body only after she died. No amount of photos showing Najjar treating wounded protesters over the past month could convince him. Palestinians, to him, are liars by definition.

Taken together, the responses reflected the depressing fact that for most of the Israeli public, Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers are guilty by default. The identity of the deceased or the circumstances of the killing are irrelevant. Many of the commenters who responded to my post made the effort to stress that they were were not right-wingers. One even identified as a supporter of Meretz, the dovish left-wing party.

I gave up on the conversation because it was too frustrating and instead continued to look for interviews conducted with Razan. There are quite a few online. The young medic, it seems, was of significant interest to numerous international media outlets. In one of the interviews, Razan says:

People ask my father what I’m doing here, and getting a salary. He tells them, ‘I’m proud of my daughter, she provides care to the children of our country.’ And because in our society, women are often judged, but society has to accept us . If people 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.

After that, I watched a short video of young men and women, perhaps Razan’s friends, perhaps her family members, in tears, their piercing cries announcing her death. One of them held his head and shouted her name over and over again.

Mourners during the funeral of Razan al-Najjar. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Mourners during the funeral of Razan al-Najjar. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

I then returned to the comments that had accumulated under the picture of the young woman who went to care for wounded protesters and came back in a shroud. My heart struggled to contain the sadness.

I apologize to my well-intentioned friend. The bitter truth is that the Israeli collective consciousness is light-years away from a place where it can even begin speak about the basic concepts of justice, human rights, and human equality before God. I doubt that years of occupation and moral corruption can be corrected.

I also apologize to Razan, the young Gazan woman who lived her whole life under occupation, more than half under the brutal siege. She did not taste a single day of freedom in her short life. She went out into the Valley of Death by the separation barrier to care for her wounded countrymen and never came back. With shame beyond words, I apologize. Rest in peace Razan, may your memory bring freedom and justice to your people.

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    1. Ben

      “The bitter truth is that the Israeli collective consciousness is light-years away from a place where it can even begin speak about the basic concepts of justice, human rights, and human equality before God. I doubt that years of occupation and moral corruption can be corrected.”

      Honestly it reminds me of a cult, like Scientology, or the Branch Davidians at Waco. There is no rational conversation to be had with fanatics. One might as well try to hold a conversation with Tom Cruise as to why Scientology is an organized crime organization masquerading as a religion. Or try to argue an anorexia nervosa sufferer out of her belief she is fat. They tried to patiently wait out the Branch Davidians and it didn’t work. The world has tried to wait out the GOI-IDF-Settler Complex for fifty years now and it hasn’t worked. All the forces of states and public movements have to be brought to bear to stay the fanatics and reverse the damage. The Israeli public is incapable of internal change by itself. Later on we can talk about feelings and changing consciousness, but the first thing that has to change is the behavior.

      Reply to Comment
      • brightdark

        For a moment I thought you had finally allowed yourself to see the truth Ben. Just about everything you whine about can be said about the Palestinians and Fatah and Hamas. They are a cult who demands that their people sacrifice themselves in pointless acts of death in exchange for payments to their relatives. They encourage this from childhood, the children dress as suicide bombers, and refuse to teach them anything about Jews other than that they are vile creatures that have to exterminated. That there can be no peace until the land, from Jordan to the sea, is free of the Jew. If a Palestinian tries to work with Israelis for peace they are considered traitors and have a potential death sentence on their heads.

        That their so-call ‘leadership’ never negotiates. They just demand and then sit back and blame Israel when Israel refuses to commit suicide. Israel is suppose to give ‘incentives’, that is bribes, to get them back to the table. Why no the other way around? The Arab states don’t care about the Palestinians except to make the proper noises of support. Most them think the Palestinians are barbarians and would rather deal with Israel because will keep a deal. Palestinians will just take your money and then demand more.

        They have had nearly 30 years and billions of dollars of aid and are still basket case. Oh yes, its Israels fault you would say. Why is it never the Palestinians? They are attached to the aid teat like no other people. No other group is considered ‘refugees’ for generations. The ‘nakba’ is nothing compared to what happened to the Indians and Pakistanis dung Partition. The difference is they have moved on. They don’t wave fake keys about for land that they will never get.

        You’ll reply with pithy, sarcastic comments. Maybe even mention hasbara or drivel like that. Then you will stamp your feet and demand Israel kill itself. They won’t. There won’t be some international invasion force. Your BDS is a failure and a joke. You know why Likud gets the support it does? Its because the peace parties had their chance in the 90’s and early 00’s and what they got were bombs on buses and in restaurants. They pulled out of Gaza and got rockets. Israelis don’t want to kill Palestinians but they have no choice in the matter. They would rather live separately and peacefully but the likes of Hamas and Fatah don’t want that. I doubt they even want to rule, they just want to kill Jews.

        And that’s where we are.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          But each one of your sentences is simply not true, is a distortion or an evasion or a half- or quarter-truth at best, leaves out enormous swathes of context, and is in fact a cult-like response, a repetition of “everybody knows” talking points that aren’t true. But sustains the cult.

          Which is not to say that I support cult-like aspects of the Palestinian side either. What I won’t get roped into is a pseudo-contest between cults, a battle of the cults, or to evade the whole issue by saying, “let’s be even-handed and balanced and not one-sided” about our cult versus theirs,” and since the Israeli side has all the power and continues to use it to gobble up ever more land and brutalize and dispossess ever more people, it is quite comfortable talking about this kind of “even-handedness” thing forever.

          And since it is the Israeli side that is perpetrating gross injustice here and not the other way around, I don’t really get your point. If and when a fair two state solution is made between the sides and cult-like fanatics on the Palestinian side try to undermine that peaceful settlement, then rest assured I will come down at least as hard on those fanatics, don’t you worry.

          The chief thing to observe about the Israelis and Palestinians on this matter is that the Israelis complain about extremists on the other side but do everything in their power to starve the moderates and feed the extremists (on both sides). I watch what the Israelis do, not what they say.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Baladi Akka 1948

      “People ask my father what I’m doing here, and getting a salary”
      CORRECTION: Razan says “without getting a salary”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Baladi Akka 1948

      “Rest in peace Razan, may your memory bring freedom and justice to your people.”
      God bless you, Orly, I don’t know how you managed to stay human in the madhouse named Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      The arabs cannot have it both ways.
      On the one hand, they want a struggle to the death to defeat the evil Zionist Colonizer.
      On the other hand, they keep complaining about their fundamental human rights.

      Well, so-caled “fakestinyan”, which one is it ?
      You cannot have BOTH !

      Since you insist on fighting the evil Zionist Colonist, you must pay the penalty of your “fakestinyanism”. Thus, the eliminating such female Islamofascists is part of a legitinate war !

      Reply to Comment
      • Sandra Streifel

        Palestinians have the right, under international law, to use violence to resist the occupation/colonization of their land. It’s illegal, however, under the Geneva Conventions, to do as the IDF do in Gaza when their snipers aim at “protected persons” under terms of the Conventions, such as clearly marked Medical Personnel, or Journalists, or children. Razan Najjar wore a white coat with Red Cross/Red Crescent emblems and neon visibility markings. There’s video of her just before she was shot advancing towards the victims; she has her hands in the air, and she’s yelling: “Don’t shoot!” She was a protected person, under the Geneva Conventions, no matter how you want to spin it, as were all the other medics in Gaza.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Katy Harries

      Such a beautiful young girl. Unjustifiable.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        Before her death, she admitted in an interview given to the Lebanese TV Al Mayadeen that she was a human shield to protect “the martyrs”. To summarize she was a fighter.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Bruce Gould

      Let’s add a voice from the Israeli-Jewish left: Uri Avnery, who fought for Israel’s creation and later served in the Knesset:

      http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1527857702/

      The Gaza population has now reached about two million. Most of them are refugees from Israel, who were driven out during the 1948 war. I cannot say that I am innocent – my army unit fought in the south of Palestine. I saw what was happening. I wrote about it….Truth is that the Israeli army has no answer to non-violent resistance. In such a campaign, all the cards are in the hands of the Palestinians. World public opinion condemns Israel and praises the Palestinians. Therefore, the army’s reaction is to open fire, in order to induce the Palestinians to start violent actions. With these the army knows how to deal.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      At a time when hundreds of acres of land south of Israel are on fire following fires caused by Hamas terrorists, I can assure you that the vast majority of Israelis do not care about this Razam. What is laughable is that she said in an interview that all she was doing was for the sake of this land. These people love “their land, their country” by burning tires and burning fields, causing immense pollution. As for the photos illustrating this article, they show veiled women as a sign of submission to men and this is absolutely unbearable in the 21st century. It is true that this does not bother our dear leftists at all.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        That “the vast majority of Israelis [that you know and associate with and feed off of] do not care,” Halevy, is one of the main points of the article on this page, and of hundreds of other +972 Magazine articles.
        Halevy’s amazing, world champion streak in Missing The Point is unbroken. His record untouched by other mortals.
        Halevy might, however, take note of the Israelis like David and Yuval, below. One gets the sense that for Halevy, “leftist” means anyone with their humanity intact and not brainwashed. This is how cults operate.

        Reply to Comment
    8. david

      Her few recorded words serve as a model to me : politically, personally and spiritually. She did not know it, but she chose them so well.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yuval

      I’m sorry for Razan. I’m ashame. As an Israely I admit that unfortunately you are right. The ignorance and the racisim the israeli society is facing is the unnoticed result of the 50 years of occupation. My heart with you

      Reply to Comment
    10. Carolyn

      Excellent article. My only hope is that the silent majority in Israel do believe in equality and social justice and will pressure their government to end the blockade in Gaza and move towards a one state solution. I tried to make a donation to your magazine butcouldn’ t because the form wasn’t In English.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Hi Carolyn, there is an English language page to do this here:

        https://972mag.com/donate/

        It’s really easy. And you can also set up regular monthly donations of whatever amount works for you. The Magazine really depends on contributions from good people like you. I have never seen so few people do so much with so little. +972 Magazine is a rare gem of uncorrupted, citizen’s journalism. The journalists of +972 Magazine have sterling integrity and will make your dollar go so far.

        If you continue to have trouble finding a way to donate please write to the Magazine and alert them to the problem or post it again here and we will find a way to solve the problem.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Jamil

      As Israelis you are brilliant at making justifications. How could a single bullet by a humane sniper be shot by mistake, and if there were no errors in identification of the “target” then she must have done something that threatened the Israeli security from few hundred meters away from the borders.

      Be brilliant too in asking correct questions, be humble enough to confess that you make”mistakes” and be bold enough to face the fact that your culture does not give weight to the lives of the “arabeem milokhlakim”

      Reply to Comment
    12. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      In an interview given to the Lebanese TV channel before her death, she claimed to be a human shield to protect the martyrs….

      Reply to Comment