Family of slain Palestinian demands Israel return body for burial
Outrage after Israeli forces use bulldozer to retrieve body of man they accused of planting improvised explosive device.
Khan Younis, Gaza – At the al-Naem family home in western Khan Younis, the relatives of 27-year-old Mohammed gathered in shock to grieve over the loss of a father, husband and son.
“My son has no match, he was everything to me,” said Mohammed’s mother, Mirvat, 56. “He was kind-hearted, religious and very moral. I can’t imagine him gone.”
Mohammed was shot dead on Sunday by the Israeli military, which accused him of planting an explosive device near the Israeli separation fence east of Khan Younis in the besieged Gaza Strip. Mohammed’s family denied this, saying that his presence near the fence area was peaceful.
A local journalist captured the scenes that followed in a video, widely shared on social media, which showed a group of Palestinian onlookers attempting to retrieve Mohammed’s body when an Israeli military bulldozer approaches.
Gunfire can be heard as the men rush away from the body, which the bulldozer then scoops up after several apparently failed attempts. The body appears to hang from the teeth of the scoop by a piece of clothing as the bulldozer turns and heads towards the fence.
‘A great crime’
The images of Mohammed’s lifeless body being carried away by the bulldozer have caused widespread outrage among Palestinians and the family has demanded its swift return for burial.
“Isn’t it horrendous enough that they killed my young man? What they did is a great crime against humanity,” said Mirvat.
“All I want is for them to bring my son back … It’s my right to see him for the last time and bid farewell to him and bury him near me to be able to visit him.”
Mohammed’s wife Hiba, 25, who struggled to speak through tears, described her husband as a kind-hearted, hard-working family man.
“Mohammed was a very kind and very remarkable man. I can’t imagine this happening to him,” she told Al Jazeera. “We’ve been married for a year-and-a-half and he’s been very tender-hearted and sweet to me. Our baby is less than a year old, what did he do to deserve growing up without his father?”
Hiba said Mohammed was an engineer who worked with different companies as he sought to make a living to support his family. She said she would not watch the video.
Palestinian journalist Muthana al-Najjar, 36, said he learned that there had been an incident close to the fence near Khan Younis approximately at 6am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday and rushed to the scene with his camera equipment.
“The scene of the incident was horrifying,” he said. “There was an intensive deployment of Israeli soldiers on sand mounds. There was also an Israeli Merkava battle tank standing on a sand mound, live rounds were being shot from the Israeli side,” he said, adding that one person lay prone close to a motorcycle.
A group of onlookers had gathered and made several attempts to recover the body, but faced live fire from the Israeli soldiers, he told Al Jazeera.
“The first rescue attempt was made by four civilian farmers who took a wheelbarrow and tried to approach Mohammed’s body, but the army shot live fire towards them and their attempt to retrieve the body failed,” al-Najjar said.
“More residents of the area came to the incident’s location, and there were loudspeakers calling on people to hasten and attempt to retrieve the bodies before the army comes and steals them as has been the case several times before.”
As more people gathered nearby, al-Najjar said Israeli vehicles, including a military bulldozer, approached the area.
“The bulldozer wasn’t there yet, so four young people managed to reach the body and put the martyr on the wheelbarrow, but he fell off on their way back because of the Israeli fire and their fear of getting shot. They tried to carry him again, but the Israeli soldiers shot one of them, and he was injured so their balance was disturbed, and the martyr fell off again.”
“During the third rescue attempt, the bulldozer entered Gaza with the tank. And for the first time in years, we saw an Israeli bulldozer entering around 70 metres into Gaza,” al-Najjar pointed out.
“As one person managed to get a hold of Mohammed’s body, the bulldozer rushed towards them and used its scoop to hold back the body, while soldiers shot the rescuer in his leg. The shooting continued so people couldn’t approach the body.”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group said that Mohammed was a member of its armed wing. Late on Sunday, it launched more than 20 rockets towards Israel from Gaza in response to his killing.
Overnight, Israel carried out a number of air raids on what it called “terror sites” near Damascus, Syria and Gaza.
The group said that two of its members were killed in Syria.
On Monday, PIJ fired a further volley of rockets and mortars from Gaza. Israel’s military said in a statement that 20 “projectiles” had been fired from Gaza on Monday, 18 of which were intercepted by its air defence systems.