Israeli troops killed four Palestinians on Friday, including a well-known protester in a wheelchair.
Palestinians have been protesting President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a controversial decision that drew criticism from Muslims across the Middle East and around the world. Israeli troops faced off with protesters on Friday after a group of Palestinians gathered on the border of the Gaza strip to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. Around 150 people were injured when Israeli troops opened fire, four of them fatally, medical officials told local media.
One of the men killed was Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, a wheelchair-bound 29-year-old who was a regular presence at Palestinian protests against Israel. Thuraya spoke to the media often in recent years and said he lost both his legs in a 2008 Israeli missile strike in Gaza.
The status of Jerusalem is at the center of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians because half of Jerusalem has been envisioned as the future capital of a Palestinian state. For many in the Arab world, Trump’s announcement last week put an end to any chance of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, and solidified Israel’s control over the sacred city.
Thuraya’s death will likely enflame passions in a region where tension was already growing.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is difficult to navigate at the best of times. Yet rather than calmly managing the dispute, the Trump administration opted instead to throw fuel on the fire. By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the White House surely knew that the Palestinians would erupt in protest—and that the Israelis would not sit idly by,” Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek.
“With the death of Abu Thuraya, the Trump administration now has the bonfire it wanted. The question going forward is this: Do they further fan the flames, or instead grab the fire extinguisher?”
Palestinian protesters are often outnumbered by Israel's formidable military, and young Palestinian men are often the first victims during skirmishes, experts noted.
"Very often, young protesters will go to protest sites where [Israeli Defence] forces are prepared to respond, and the outcome is rarely in the favor of the protesters. They are typically armed with rocks and slingshots and little else," Amanda Kadlec, a Middle East expert at Rand Corporation, told Newsweek.
Thuraya was allegedly killed by a sniper on Friday. Some of his supporters argued that he had not posed a threat to Israeli security forces.
"The fact he was killed today by ‘sniper’ bullets may mean to Palestinians that his murder was a perpetrated act and not an act of military or security necessity," Fadi Al-Qadi, a Middle East and human rights expert based in Jordan, told Newsweek.
"It would mean for many Palestinians, especially in the already strangled Gaza strip, that the path to violence is not a choice [their choice] but rather an inevitable consequence of [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu’s government policies."
In their 2010 book Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement, Beverly Milton Edwards and Stephen Farrell described Thuraya as a young fighter for the Palestinian Authority. At the time, the Palestinian Authority was fighting against Hamas, a Palestinian political organization and militant group that has waged war on Israel since the late 1980s.
Those who knew Thuraya said he was an integral part of his community in Gaza.
"I met this young man when I was living in the Gaza Strip for 15 months in 2014 and 2015," Denny Cormier, a retiree who taught students and journalists about social media, told Newsweek. "This is quite a loss for the people of Gaza, and especially those who knew him. It's a great loss for me."
Most recently, Thuraya was known for climbing up electricity poles and holding up Palestinian flags during protests. A Facebook video posted two days before his death showed Thuraya walking on his hands without a wheelchair.
"This land is our land. We are not going to give up. America has to withdraw the declaration it's made," he said in the video.