Gaza City – Mohammad Othman, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, lies on a hospital bed at the intensive care unit of al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip – the oldest and biggest medical facility in the besieged enclave.
Othman is one of more than 1,500 Palestinians wounded on Friday when the Israeli army unleashed a storm of live ammunition, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets on thousands of people protesting along the Gaza Strip’s eastern border with Israel, killing 18.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Othman, whose bed was lined with Palestinian flags and flowers from relatives and friends after he sustained a bullet to the back of his head, says he never expected to be targeted.
“I was 300 metres away from the fence [between the Gaza Strip and Israel], along with my siblings, when I was shot,” says Othman.
“I meant to avoid approaching the borders to keep my younger brothers safe, and yet, I was targeted.”
Othman has spent the past two days under intensive care after doctors declared his case critical.
Six other Palestinians remain in the hospital’s ICU after Friday’s events, in which Palestinians demonstrated peacefully to mark Land Day, calling for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Friday’s rallies, dubbed “the Great March of Return”, were called for by civil society groups to kick off a six-week sit-in leading up to the commemoration of the Nakba on May 15.
Jihad al-Juaidi, head of the ICU at the hospital, told Al Jazeera that all the injuries coming into the hospital were centred on the head, knee joints or pelvic joints.
“This shows that Israeli forces were shooting-to-kill, or to cause disabilities,” he said.
Describing conditions at the hospital after Friday, al-Juaidi said the facility had admitted dozens of Palestinian men, women and children below the age of 16.
“It was chaos when people started pouring into the hospital – particularly due to the shortage of medication we suffer in the health sector,” continued al-Juaidi.
The Gaza Strip, home to about two million people, has been under an Israeli land, sea and air blockade for more than a decade.
The besieged enclave has witnessed three large-scale Israeli assaults that have damaged much of the area’s infrastructure and worsened conditions, in which more than 80 percent of the population relies on humanitarian assistance to survive.
About 70 percent of Gaza’s population are refugees from the Palestinian territories taken over by Zionist armed groups during a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948 to establish the state of Israel, known to Arabs as the Nakba.
Marwan Yassin, a 15-year-old who participated in the demonstrations, lies wrapped in a heavy blanket. Metal rods stick out of his right leg.
“I heard about the march and decided to attend with my friend,” Yassin tells Al Jazeera.
When his 10-year-old companion tried to plant the Palestinian flag near the border, he was shot in the leg.
“I went to the hospital with him and returned back to plant the flag, but I was also shot in the leg,” he continues, adding that the bullet hit him below the knee, leaving tears in his arteries.
According to the Ministry of Health, at least 800 Palestinians were targeted with live fire, while some 150 were wounded from rubber-coated steel bullets and about 20 from tear gas inhalation.
Several countries and human rights groups have condemned Israel’s use of force.
On Tuesday, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the killings were unlawful and calculated, pointing out that protesters posed no threat to Israeli soldiers positioned across the border.
“The high number of deaths and injuries was the foreseeable consequence of granting soldiers leeway to use lethal force outside of life-threatening situations in violation of international norms,” HRW said in the report.
Prior to the demonstrations, Israel’s top army commander deployed more than 100 snipers to the Gaza border, giving them permission to open fire “if lives are in jeopardy”.
Back at al-Shifa hospital, Mohammad Hilles struggles to recover from a bullet that shattered his leg.
The 27-year-old was shot above his knee joint while protesting with his friends about 100 metres away from the border fence.
He has had to undergo a 13-hour surgery to treat the damage to his veins and the severe bleeding that ensued.
When asked whether he regretted going to the march, he did not hesitate.
“I will return back to the demonstrations if I recover soon.”