GAZA (Reuters) - More than two weeks after a projectile struck Mohammad An-Najjar’s right eye during a Gaza border protest, the 12-year-old boy has only just learnt that he will never see through it again.
Lamia Abu Harb said that Palestinian medics told her that her son may need a glass eye.
The doctor who treated Najjar told Reuters that his retina was damaged beyond repair in the Jan. 11 incident, the aftermath of which was captured on camera by Reuters photographer Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.
It had been one of the quietest weeks in nine months of Gaza border protests before that Friday, when Najjar and his friends left their homes in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, and went to the nearest border protest site, as they often did on the weekend.
The boy said he did not take part in throwing stones or rolling burning tires, and that he went with his friends “out of boredom.”
When Abu Mustafa arrived on the scene, east of Khan Younis, he took up position at what he felt to be a safe distance, in a place that by now he knew well.
As the clashes between Gaza protesters and Israeli troops intensified, Palestinians said Israeli soldiers fired towards protesters, who hurled stones at them and rolled burning tires at the border fence.
Switching between lenses for distance shots and close-ups, Abu Mustafa began taking images. Some protesters covered their faces with T-shirts to protect against tear gas as some others ran away.
The first he knew that something happened was when people began shouting “An injury, an injury,” the photographer recalls.
“I continued to shoot pictures. A man was carrying a boy in his arms, and blood was coming from the boy’s eye as he screamed,” he said.
“Some images can still shock me,” he added.
“I even muttered to myself as I continued to shoot, I said: ‘The boy lost an eye, he lost his eye’.”
The injured boy was Najjar. He said he was standing near the border fence when he was suddenly surrounded by tear gas.
“I just wanted to turn around and run when something hit my eye, it was hard and painful,” he said.
Doctors said he was hit by a tear gas canister. His mother kept the news from him for a fortnight, until the boy went for a checkup “and he heard doctors saying he was losing the sight of his eye.”
Doctors who treated Najjar said that because of his age and the extent of the damage, he may have to get treatment outside Gaza.
Israel does permit some seriously ill Palestinians to cross through checkpoints into Israel for medical treatment, but no application has yet been made. Palestinian health ministry officials said they were still processing the paperwork ahead of a decision about a formal request to travel.
Harb, a mother of four, said: “I just wish there was some hope. Doctors told me there isn’t, but I hope we can get him out of Gaza for treatment,” she said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman had no information about specific incidents on Jan. 11, but referred to statements issued by the military that day that said troops had faced 13,000 “rioters” in several areas along the Gaza-Israel border, some throwing hand grenades and explosive devices.
The military said there had been “many attempts to infiltrate and breach the fence” that day, and warned Gazans not to try to breach it.
One Israeli soldier was lightly injured by stones and taken to hospital for treatment, the military said, adding that troops were “responding by using riot dispersal means and according to the rules of engagement.”
The Gaza protesters are demanding an end to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the narrow coastal strip, which is home to around two million Palestinians. They also seek the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948.
Israel accuses the Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, of orchestrating the protests along the border fence to provide cover for attacks and to distract from Gaza’s economic plight. Hamas denies the allegations.
Photo essay - reut.rs/2Th8W4l
Writing by Nidal Almughrabi, Editing by William Maclean