Hashem Zakout should have been at his local hospital yesterday doing the voluntary work as a clerk that he hopes will lead to a paid full-time job. Instead the 24-year-old was a patient in the emergency room at another northern Gaza hospital, shot in the left knee after throwing “little stones” at Israeli troops across the border, east of the Jabaliya refugee camp where he lives.
Zakout was wounded on Friday when he was 10 metres from the border fence, hit by a sniper during the latest mass protests at the divide between Israel and Gaza. The “Great March of Return”, a series of protests intended to continue until 15 May, the 70th annual commemoration of “the Nakba” or catastrophe, when 700,000 Palestinian refugees were forced from their homes in the 1948 war, has captured his imagination.
Insisting he was “not afraid”, Zakout said he had been taking part in the protests for the idea of a “return to our lands” – the home in what is now Israel, from which his grandparents had to flee in 1948. But he also said he would not have joined Friday’s border demonstration if he had a full-time job.
As it is, he relies – humiliatingly – on “pocket money” from his father, a former policeman for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which has itself been cut by half as part of President Mahmoud Abbas’s sanctions on Gaza, which are designed to squeeze the Hamas leaders who run it. Zakout would like to get married but couldn’t afford it. “I have energy,” said Zakout. “But I need someone to employ me.”
As an unemployed man Zakout is typical of many of the 491 Palestinians injured during the latest protests. He was lucky not to be one of the nine killed, among them a 14-year-old boy and a politically unaffiliated Palestinian video journalist, Yaser Murtaja, shot dead despite wearing a jacket showing he was press.
The injured were being treated for gunshot wounds, or after being hit by teargas canisters and inhaling the gas, on the second Friday of what may yet prove a historic phenomenon: the first mass unarmed demonstrations in Gaza since the first intifada more than 30 years ago. That was the uprising that led in time to the 1993 Oslo accord between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat and the huge hopes they engendered of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Continue reading…]