The National / February 24, 2020
The gruesome incident sparked uproar in the besieged enclave and a wave of militant rocket fire.
On Sunday, at around 6am local time, Palestinian journalist Muthana al-Najjar rushed to the perimeter fence that separates Gaza from Israel to document a gruesome incident that was unfolding.
Before the 36-year-old was an Israeli soldier violently retrieving the body of a Gazan, dragging him on a bulldozer’s blade.
“In more than a decade covering Gaza, this is the first time I see an event of this nature,” Mr Al-Najjar told The National, describing an intensive deployment of Israeli soldiers and Merkava tanks on sand mounds behind the fence with discrete rounds of live fire towards civilians.
Israel’s military said in a statement that soldiers opened fire at two Palestinians placing an explosive device next to the fence in the Hamas-run enclave. One of them, Mohammed al-Naem, was later identified as an affiliate of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group that is second to Hamas.
It said one of the men was killed and a military bulldozer removed his body.
But the image of Al-Naem’s body dangling from the bulldozer’s mechanical arm sparked uproar in the besieged enclave. Islamic Jihad responded with a wave of rocket fire and Al-Naem’s family decried his killing.
Israel responded with several airstrikes on Gaza and Syria, which led to the injury of four Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, and the death of two Islamic Jihad members in Damascus, according to the group’s spokesman Abu Hamza.
“Undoubtedly, this incident will unleash the latent potentials of the Palestinian fight against the occupation. We won’t accept the killing of our people in cold blood,” Islamic Jihad leader, Ahmed al-Modalal, told The National.
Al-Naem’s mother, 56-year-old Mirvat, told The National at her Gaza home that her son had persistently invited her to his house for lunch on the day he was killed. She said it would not make sense that he would endanger his life on the morning of the same day. Mirvat said that “the Israelis were the ones to assault him on our ground and our land.”
Al-Naem’s wife, 25-year-old Hiba, told The National that her late husband was “a decent engineer contracting for different companies and working hard to make a living.” She pointed out that they have been married for a year and half and have a baby, Hamza, who’s less than a year old.
“Why does our baby deserve to grow up without his father?” she asked.
After Al-Naem was killed, “there were loudspeakers calling on people to hasten to retrieve the body before the IDF arrives to steal it, as has usually been the case in recent months,” Mr Al-Najjar said, referring to the Israeli military.
He said that civilian farmers and residents of neighbouring areas rushed to make three different attempts to retrieve his body, but they were all met with live fire from the Israeli military without prior warning, which led to the injury of two civilians.
On the last rescue attempt, a military bulldozer ventured around 70 metres inside Gaza, followed by an Israeli Merkava tank, which seldom happens in daytime, according to Mr Al-Najjar.
He said the bulldozer rushed to hold back the body of Al-Naem with its blade while the rescuer was shot in his leg, amid continued shooting towards civilians.
“The bulldozer made several failed attempts to violently snatch his body with its blade only, until it mutilated the body and dismembered parts of it,” Mr Al-Najjar told The National, “people managed to retrieve parts of his legs, which the family buried.”
Israel’s Defence Minister, Naftali Bennett, expressed support on Twitter for the Israeli military’s conduct of collecting the body of Al-Naem and others as a bargaining chip to restore the bodies of two Israeli soldiers that Hamas has been holding captive since 2014. Mr Bennett stated, “this is how it should be done, and this is how it will be done”.
With eyes overfilled with tears, Al-Naem’s mother Mirvat spoke with a shaken voice.
“What’s their purpose in mutilating his body after they killed him? I want them to bring my son back, now before tomorrow. I have a right to see him one last time before we bury him here where I could visit him,” she said.
Mr Al-Najjar’s footage of the last rescue attempt went viral. However, Al-Naem’s wife said she “would never watch the video”.
Muhammed Shehada regularly contributes to the National