IDF launches criminal probe into killing of Gazan medic in June

Army’s top lawyer calls for Military Police to investigate death of Razan al-Najjar, who was apparently shot dead by Israeli troops

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Volunteer paramedic Razan Najjar, 21, center, is seen before she was killed, running with protesters to take cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops, in the Gaza Strip, near the border with Israel, during a violent demonstration east of Khan Younis, June 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Volunteer paramedic Razan Najjar, 21, center, is seen before she was killed, running with protesters to take cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops, in the Gaza Strip, near the border with Israel, during a violent demonstration east of Khan Younis, June 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

In an unusual move, the army’s top lawyer called Monday for the Military Police to launch a criminal investigation into the death of a Palestinian medic, who was apparently killed by Israeli troops during a riot along the Gaza security fence this summer.

Razan Najjar, a 21-year-old volunteer medic, was reportedly shot dead during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops along the Gaza border on June 1.

Following an initial investigation, the military confirmed that shots had been fired in the area around the time that Najjar was killed, but said that no live fire was intentionally aimed at the medic.

“During the incident, a limited number of bullets were fired and no gunfire was directly or intentionally fired at her,” the army said in a statement.

Razan Najjar (Wikipedia)

Later, a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Najjar had apparently been struck by a bullet that had been fired at a different rioter.

On Monday, Military Advocate General Sharon Afek called for the Military Police’s investigatory unit — known by its Hebrew acronym metzach — to launch a criminal probe into Najjar’s death, an army spokesperson said.

In calling for the criminal probe, Afek was not rejecting the army’s initial findings, but rather felt the issue demanded a deeper review in light of the claims by Palestinians that the troops had intentionally targeted Najjar, a source told The Times of Israel, on condition of anonymity. Under the framework of a criminal probe, the Military Police would be better able to perform such an investigation.

Razan al-Najjar (C-R), a 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic, tends to an injured colleague during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018, (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Since riots along the Gaza border began in late March, the Israeli military has maintained that its actions adhere to its rules of engagement, which were challenged and upheld in the High Court of Justice this summer.

Following Najjar’s death, the IDF Southern Command launched an investigation into the incident, as did the IDF General Staff.

The findings of the IDF General Staff’s probe were presented to Maj. Gen. Afek’s office.

The medic’s death sparked a flurry of condemnations against the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, from Palestinians, from within Israel, and internationally.

Thousands of Palestinians attended Najjar’s funeral the next day in Khan Younis. Ambulances and medical crews participated in the funeral, with her father holding the white blood-stained medic jacket she wore when she was shot, as mourners called for revenge.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic Razan al-Najjar, at her funeral in Khan Yunis on June 2, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The Israeli army said the clashes on the day of Najjar’s death included “thousands of rioters” at five locations along the border, “burning tires adjacent to the security fence, and attempting to damage security infrastructure.”

Shots were also fired at an army vehicle and a Palestinian had crossed into Israel, planted a grenade, and returned to Gaza, the army said at the time.

Najjar was less than 100 yards from the border fence, treating a man who been struck by a tear gas canister, when she was shot, according to a relative, Ibrahim al-Najjar, who was there and said he carried her to an ambulance.

Palestinian protesters evacuate female medic Razan al-Najjar, 21, near the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, during a protest east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, June 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

“I told her it was dangerous to approach [the fence], but she answered that she was not afraid to die and wanted to help the young man,” a fellow medic told Gaza reporters, according to Haaretz.

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society said Najjar was shot “as she was attempting to provide first aid to an injured protester,” and was among three other first responders also hit by live fire that day.

“Shooting at medical personnel is a war crime under the Geneva conventions,” the PMRC said in a statement, demanding “an immediate international response to Israeli humanitarian law violations in Gaza.”

The UN’s envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a tweet that “Medical workers are #NotATarget!” and that “Israel needs to calibrate its use of force and Hamas need to prevent incidents at the fence.”

The criticism was echoed by Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi, who called the shooting “a despicable war crime committed by a cowardly and criminal sniper who saw a nurse with a white coat and pulled the trigger.”

Najjar had given an interview to The New York Times the previous month, in which she proudly discussed her position as a female volunteer medic.

“Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too,” she told the Times. “We have one goal. To save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.”

Najjar had reportedly been among the first volunteer medics at the protest camp in Khan Younis.

“The strength that I showed the first day of the protests, I dare you to find it in anyone else,” she told the Times.

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