Thousands of people gathered in Gaza on Saturday for the funeral of Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old Palestinian medic who witnesses say Israeli soldiers shot dead near the border fence on Friday.
More than 115 people have been killed since protests began on the border at the end of March, but Najjar is only the second woman to die. The first was a teenage protester.
Photos from the scene immediately after Najjar was shot show a group of men carrying the volunteer in her white uniform, her head tilted back and her gloved hand limp around their shoulders. Witnesses said she was shot in the chest.
The Israeli military said on Saturday that it would investigate her death but that its troops worked “in accordance with standard operating procedures.”
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) constantly works to draw operational lessons and reduce the number of casualties in the area of the Gaza Strip security fence,” the military said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Hamas terror organization deliberately and methodically places civilians in danger.”
Last month, the New York Times interviewed Najjar in Gaza. She was one of the only female medics responding to medical emergencies during the protests organized by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.
“We have one goal — to save lives and evacuate people,” she said in the video. “And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.”
After her death, a volunteer ambulance worker, Izzat Shatat, told the Associated Press that he and Najjar were planning to announce their engagement at the end of Ramadan.
Hamas called the protests this spring the Great March of Return. The demonstrations intended to shed light on the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, and also call for “right of return” for Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 war. On May 14, the same day the United States opened its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the Gaza Strip.
Organizers encouraged the protesters to try to burst through the fence into Israel, and Israeli soldiers responded with firepower. They killed dozens of people, including teenagers, and wounded at least 2,700 demonstrators, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The United Nations said that “those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”
But on Friday, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel's “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force” against Palestinians. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called the resolution one-sided. The White House has blamed Hamas for the violence in Gaza.
After Najjar died in the operating room on Friday, Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. Middle East envoy, tweeted that "#Israel needs to calibrate its use of force and Hamas need to prevent incidents at the fence. Escalation only costs more lives.”
“Medical workers are #NotATarget!” he wrote.
In her interview with the New York Times, Najjar said that Gaza needed more female medics like herself.
“The strength that I showed as a first responder on the first day of protests, I dare you to find it anyone else,” she said.