Bureij, Gaza – The whiz of a bullet is quickly followed by another, and then another, as young men start desperately scrambling over the bumpy ground at the Gaza-Israel border to find a place of safety.
Medics Mohammed Mundil and Hazem Shaban, however, are running in the opposite direction, towards the chaos. The cry of “medic” is heard, an indication that someone has been hit by Israeli live fire.
As volunteers with the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Gaza, Mundil and Shaban have seen their colleagues killed in the line of duty, but they refuse to stop their work.
“There is stress and nerves before, but as soon as the protest begins and we are in the field, the stress goes away. It has to,” Shaban tells Al Jazeera. “When we begin running to treat people, it gives us strength. The Israeli army is always aggressive, more aggressive here in Gaza than in the West Bank. We have to concentrate always.”
The protest against Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and in solidarity with protesters in the occupied West Bank amid a wave of violence there, has barely entered its second minute before Israeli forces begin firing live ammunition towards the young men gathering at the border.
“Quick, quick, quick,” Shaban shouts, helping to scoop up an injured protester on to a stretcher and then towards an ambulance parked 50 metres away.
Fifteen-year-old Qusai Abu Faris, writhing in pain, has been shot in each leg and is bleeding profusely. Hassan al-Attal, a full-time PRCS medic, tries to treat the wounds as quickly as possible in the ambulance, but the bleeding is severe and potentially life-threatening.
don’t distinguish between medics, protesters or civilians.”]
“What’s your family name?” Attal asks, before reeling off a set of routine questions meant to keep the boy alert and conscious. He works quickly, ripping out bandages from plastic cases lining the ambulance’s interior, as the boy’s blood seeps into his own uniform.
This has become a Friday routine for Attal and hundreds of other PRCS workers throughout the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Each Friday, Palestinians gather at specific points along Gaza’s border with Israel, as well as in towns and cities in the West Bank, to protest against the ongoing Israeli occupation and its ramifications on the Palestinian community. The protests frequently lead to violent confrontations with Israeli soldiers, and sometimes deaths.
“They [Israeli forces] don’t distinguish between medics, protesters or civilians,” Attal said earlier in the day, in an interview at the PRCS base in central Gaza.
Leaning back in his chair, Attal recalls how one of his colleagues died after Israeli forces targeted the ambulance they were driving in during the 2014 Gaza war. His colleague, a young volunteer named Mohammed, died instantly when live fire hit their vehicle.
“He wasn’t even being paid; he was a volunteer. He had a young daughter,” Attal said. “There are no jobs here, no money, no work. Young guys volunteer to do something for Palestine, but also they hope that maybe after a few years they will get a job from the experience, that they can then start their own life, get married. They have to risk their lives to maybe get a job.”
As the recent Friday protest at the border goes on, at times a predictable dance between protesters and soldiers continues.
Two dozen young Palestinians take turns running over the bumpy ground towards the soldiers, hoping to get close enough that a stone hurtled from their hands will reach the Israelis.
The soldiers sit and wait, until one rock gets too close for their liking, and a flurry of bullets pierces the air. A Palestinian goes down, the PRCS medics sprint over, and soon an ambulance is tearing away from the scene, sirens screaming. Another ambulance quickly replaces it, just as a new shift of protesters replaces the last.
As the sun goes down, the protesters silently begin to walk away from the border and the bullets, many heading back towards their homes in the Bureij refugee camp.
“About a dozen injured here – just live bullets, two critical. We’re lucky no one has died today yet,” Awnie Khatib, the Red Crescent regional team leader, says as the medics gather around the ambulances at the end of the day. “A calm day.”