5 March 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza
Omar Maruf was killed by a soldier who was heavily armed, and well equipped with everything the latest Western military industry has to offer. Omar was wearing old, dirty clothes, and collecting stones with his donkey. Omar was not even “collateral damage” unfortunately hit by a misguided bullet or bomb during a military attack: no, a young soldier, heavily armed and well equipped, targeted Omar, who was standing there, with shabby clothes and stones in his hands, and decided to shoot him. A young soldier on a sunny winter morning felt the need to kill a man his same age who he probably considered less important. He knew that this act would never have any consequences and that he wouldn’t have to justify that deed to anyone. Because it was a Palestinian with no rights, whose life didn’t count.
This article is about Omar Maruf, because his life does count. Because his death deserves outrage and a demand for justice. Because I’ve looked into the silent faces of Omar’s grieving brothers, because I have listened to his cousins, who spoke all the more, out of anger and helplessness. How can you just murder a young man, they asked me. How it is possible that the Israeli soldier will not be sued, that there is no justice, that no one cares? Why you can just kill people like us, why can you just shoot Palestinians? Why does no one do anything? Why is no government in the world is helping us, when the Israeli government believes that international law does not apply for them?
So here it is, the story of the death of Omar Maruf. He was twenty years old, and the father of a two years old son. “Don’t go too close to the border, it’s too dangerous,” his cousin Talal has previously warned him. He had no choice, Omar had responded. He had a son who needs food. So he went to the border to collect stones. It was 9:30 in the morning of the 28th February 2011, Talal was about 700 meters away from the border, on his own land. Omar was at 400 meters, when the Israeli soldiers opened fire. He was outside the so-called buffer zone, the 300-meter-wide strip of land along the border with Israel, which the Israeli military has banned from entering under threat of death. It is debatable whether it is lawful to declare publicly to shoot any civilian of the neighbour state who is on his own farmland close to the border. But that is not important, Omar was over hundred yards away from this area.
Talal couldn’t see Omar from where he was standing, he didn’t know what had happened to him, whether the shots had hit him. The soldiers fired several volleys, and with the last volley, they shot the donkey, Talal could see how he died. Why the donkey, one wonders, such a pointless additional cruelty. But Talal didn’t know yet what had happened to Omar. Shortly after, two bulldozers and a tank broke into the land, it was impossible for Talal to come closer. Even the ambulance from the Red Cross which he had called received no permission to approach the donkey cart, even after several attempts to coordinate with the Israeli side. The bulldozers began to dig a ditch around the cart with the dead donkey, almost half a kilometer away from the territory of their own state. Why, one wonders. Why did they dig a ditch around the donkey cart? Shortly after, Talal watched from a safe distance how Omar’s lifeless body was brought into the tank. Why, one wonders. Why did they take Omar with them? Maybe they wanted to treat him, said his cousin. Treat? For two hours, the paramedics of the Red Cross were trying to find out what happened to Omar, where he was, whether he was still alive. In vain. Finally, the paramedics received a call from the hospital of Gaza City: A body had been brought in from the Israeli Erez crossing, Omar was dead.
“What on earth was this soldier thinking when he shot him?” his cousin asks me. “Did he think he would pose any danger? He doesn’t even have money to buy milk for his child. Did he think he had money for a weapon? Did he think he would have a tank?” As if I would have the answer. So I follow the question of why the soldiers have taken Omar with them. They wanted to help him, the family is convinced. I ask one of his brothers, whether traces of medical treatment were visible on his body. He shakes his head. “No,” he says, “I have seen his body. There were no puncture marks of an infusion, no bandages. The bullet had entered at the left side of his body, and had come out again on the other side.” A dumdum bullet, which causes maximum damage. Bullets, which explode on impact inside the body are prohibited according to Geneva Convention 1889, Declaration 3. I don’t mention that that hardly matches the version that soldiers wanted to help. Perhaps the idea is just too reassuring that one of them has actually seen Omar as a human being who needs help.
But something had changed in him. As Omar’s dead body reached the hospital, a notice was fixed to his chest. “Terrorist” it said.
Omar Maruf is the eighth civilian being shot dead in the buffer zone in the last two months. Since the beginning of last year, far more than a hundred workers and farmers have been shot by Israeli snipers in the buffer zone: 18 of them died.