Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018
  
 

Eight-month-old Leila, Palestinian martyr and political poster child

As the people of Gaza buried their dead on Tuesday, private grief often sat uncomfortably alongside public political spectacle. Those killed – almost all of them young men in their late teens or 20s – were not just the lost children of heartbroken parents. Each one was also a shaheed, a martyr, whose death belonged to the Palestinian people and to the cause of one day returning to their lost land.

It is this logic that led members of the local Fatah party to take Leila’s picture and print it on a 5 metre martyr’s banner alongside photographs of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Yasser Arafat, the revolutionary leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Medics treat a Palestinian child suffering from teargas inhalation during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, on Monday.

Medics treat a Palestinian child suffering from teargas inhalation during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, on Monday.

Photo: AP

The eight-month-old baby with the green eyes looked strange on the banner next to the two old politicians and the Fatah symbol, a pair of fists clenched around assault rifles. Leila was too young to know what Palestine is, and yet apparently old enough to have died in its service.

An Israeli military spokesman disputed that Leila’s death was caused by Israeli tear gas, saying “we have several accounts that question the validity of this statement”. They did not give more details.

All across Gaza, mourning tents went up on street corners as families gathered to give voice to both their grief and their pride after losing a loved one in the protests against Israel and Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Dr Mahmoud Rantisi, a 60-year-old professor, smiled and waved his hand dismissively when asked about the death of his son Ahmed, who was shot in the chest on Monday as he tried to tear down the Israeli border fence.

Palestinian woman holds her child suffering from teargas inhalation during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

Palestinian woman holds her child suffering from teargas inhalation during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

Photo: AP

“I am not sad, I’m very happy. We consider this event to be like a wedding for us. We even serve juice instead of coffee because it’s like a wedding,” he said. “We think our son didn’t just die. He moved on to another life. It’s mentioned in the Koran.”

The Rantisis are a prominent Hamas family in Gaza and hundreds of men lined up to shake the professor’s hand outside the mourning tent for his son. Female relatives mourned in a separate building, several walking past the tent with eyes red from crying.

The Israeli military estimated that around 4000 people turned out along the Gaza border on Tuesday, compared to around 40,000 people who showed up on Monday during the American embassy opening ceremony. Young men burned tyres and hurled rocks towards Israeli forces. Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli sniper fire, Palestinian officials said.

At the Malakah protest site an Israeli drone flew lazily over the several hundred protesters before dropping a salvo of tear gas canisters. It hovered for a moment as Palestinians fled and then turned back towards the border.

Palestinian woman reacts in a first aid tent during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

Palestinian woman reacts in a first aid tent during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

Photo: AP

Doa’a al-Harazin, a 24-year-old woman, watched the drone angrily as it disappeared into the distance.

Although she had no children of her own, she said that if she did she would encourage them to go to the border to protest despite the danger.

While the violence on the ground had mostly subsided, the diplomatic storm gathered speed.

Ultra orthodox Jews stand by supporters of the Donald Trump outside the new American embassy in Jerusalem on Monday.

Ultra orthodox Jews stand by supporters of the Donald Trump outside the new American embassy in Jerusalem on Monday.

Photo: AP

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara at protest. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, accused Israel of “genocide” and denounced Benjamin Netanyahu as “the prime minister of an apartheid state that has occupied a defenceless people’s land 60 plus years in violation of UN resolutions.” Israel responded by expelling the Turkish consul general from Jerusalem.

“Erdogan is among Hamas’s biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter,” Mr Netanyahu said. “I suggest that he not preach morality to us.”

Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, called the deaths in Gaza “tragic and extremely concerning” and called for an investigation into the bloodshed.

Alistair Burt, the junior foreign office minister, said the US needed “to give a greater sense of understanding of some of the underlying issue”.

A man wearing a yarmulke, left, confronts one of about two dozen demonstrators protesting the US embassy move on Monday.

A man wearing a yarmulke, left, confronts one of about two dozen demonstrators protesting the US embassy move on Monday.

Photo: AP

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, suggested Trump’s unilateral approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in defiance of European allies, risked plunging the region into further chaos. “We are committed to the security of Israel but Israel’s security cannot justify this level of violence,” Le Drian said. “The situation in the Middle East is explosive, violence is doing the talking, war could loom.”

The US meanwhile continued to stand firmly behind Israel, placing the blame for the violence on Hamas.

At Shifa hospital, the main medical facility in Gaza City, exhausted staff said they could not sustain another day of violence like on Monday. “I hope that things will stay quiet, if they don’t it will be a disaster for us,” said Dr Aymal al-Sahbani, the head of the emergency department.

The doctor said he had less than half the necessary drugs and only 30 per cent of needed medical supplies like bandages. An acute worry was a shortage of external fixation devices, a metal frame used on broken bones and torn tissues after major injuries.

The vast majority of the wounded had been shot in the leg, Dr al-Sahbani said, and without enough external fixation devices his surgeons might be forced to amputate. At least two dozen amputations have taken place since the protests began on March 30, according to Palestinian officials.

Ahmed Halles, a 19-year-old worker at a Coca Cola factory, was among those who had been able to get a stabiliser. He was shot in the left leg on Monday as he tried to bring stones towards the border fence for other young men with slingshots to fire towards the Israeli positions.

“I was trying to break the siege of Gaza,” he said, referring to the 11-year blockade Israel has imposed on the strip. I will go back as soon as I can walk.”.

It is not clear if there will be more protests for the teenager to walk back to. The demonstrations which began on March 30 were always intended to come to a crescendo this week.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins this week, bringing it with it long, hot days of fasting. Israeli officials are cautiously optimistic that the demonstrations have now peaked.

“Today is the last day. I’m sad because I want the protests to keep going so we can take our rights,” said Saed al-Samouni, a 19-year-old student. Asked if he was relieved to have survived weeks without being wounded or killed, the young man shrugged. “There’s no future for anyone in Gaza,” he said.

Telegraph, London

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