Protests resume after Palestinian paramedic’s Gaza funeral

Palestinian mourners carry the body of 21 years old Razan Al-Najjar during her funeral after she was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, in Khan Yunis near the Gaza border fence. (AFP)
Updated 03 June 2018
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Protests resume after Palestinian paramedic’s Gaza funeral

  • Thousands of Palestinians attend the funeral of a young female volunteer medic killed by Israeli fire in southern Gaza
  • Razan al-Najjar, 21, a volunteer with the Gaza health ministry, was fatally shot in the chest near Khan Yunis on Friday

GAZA STRIP: Thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of medical workers in white uniforms, took part Saturday in the funeral procession of a colleague who was shot dead by Israeli troops the previous day along the Israel-Gaza border.
Relatives say 21-year-old Razan Najjar was a volunteer paramedic who had helped evacuate and treat the wounded during weeks of cross-border violence. She is just the second female fatality out of more than 115 killed since the deadly border protest campaign began in late March.
After the funeral, dozens of mourners headed to the fence and started throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers on the other side. The Palestinian Health Ministry said five protesters were wounded by Israeli fire.
Later Saturday, in a development that threatens to collapse an informal cease-fire, the Israeli military said two projectiles were fired from Gaza. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system and the other landed inside Gaza. Earlier this week, a large barrage was fired at Israel, which responded with heavy strikes against Gaza installations.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the Israeli military said its troops shot dead a Palestinian who tried to ram a tractor into its forces.
The military said its initial investigation revealed that a 35-year-old Palestinian from a village near Hebron tried to run over an officer with a Bobcat tractor. The attacker then turned around and tried to attack nearby Israeli civilians, the military said.
It said a soldier opened fire, killing the assailant. No Israeli troops were harmed.
Since 2015, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Over 260 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in that time. Israel says most were attackers. The attacks have petered off in recent months as the Palestinian focus has shifted toward mass protests at the Gaza border.
On Friday, the Palestinians protested for the 10th week in a row. The military said some hurled grenades and pipe bombs at troops behind the security fence. Some 40 Palestinians were wounded and Najjar was the only one killed.
The Khan Younis hospital said Najjar had a gunshot wound in the chest with an exit wound in the back.
The military said its troops operated “in accordance with standard operating procedures” and that it was investigating the incident. Israel insists that throughout the weeks-long campaign it has only opened fire at instigators and that Hamas has been cynically using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks.
On Saturday, the military said it thwarted a Palestinian attempt to damage the security fence surrounding Gaza and a group of activists briefly entered Israel before fleeing back into Gaza when Israeli troops opened fire.
However, Palestinians and human rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using excessive force on some occasions, and of killing Palestinians who did not pose an imminent threat both in the West Bank and Gaza.
Najjar’s body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag as the funeral procession started from the hospital and passed near her home in Khuzaa, a village near the Khan Younis that is close to the border and has served as one of five protest encampments across Gaza in recent weeks. She was the eldest of six siblings.
“I want the world to hear my voice ... what’s my daughter’s fault?” asked her mother Sabreen, dressed in black and seated on a mattress in her living room. “She will leave a large emptiness at home.”
On May 14, when the protests peaked over the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, a 14-year-old girl, Wessal Sheikh Khalil, was the first female protesters to be shot dead. She was among more than 60 people killed that day, the deadliest since a war between Hamas and Israel ended in 2014.
The Gaza protests are being organized by the territory’s Hamas leadership and are aimed at drawing attention to the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory. The protesters are also demanding the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants.
Fares Al-Kidra, a colleague of Najjar, said they were approaching the fence to evacuate a wounded man and, as they were leaving, three gunshots were heard and Najjar fell to the ground.
Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based rights group, said Najjar was 100 meters from the fence and wearing a clearly marked paramedic’s vest when she was shot.
Social media videos, and one captured by Associated Press footage, showed Najjar and a cohort of medics walking toward the fence and raising their hands to reach a wounded man lying on the ground. Najjar wore a dark blue headscarf and a white coat with the logo of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, where she volunteered.
Izzat Shatat, 23, a volunteering ambulance worker, said he and Najjar were set to announce their engagement at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. He said he was worried and asked her not to go to the border area Friday but she refused.
“She helped all people. She has never refused to help. She was the first to run toward anybody when he is shot,” he said in tears.


‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

Updated 26 March 2019
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‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

  • Markus Kerber: “What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany”
  • Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community

ANKARA: Germany has reportedly initiated a campaign to push German Muslims to develop a new interpretation of Islam, the Financial Times reported on Monday. 

“What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany,” Markus Kerber, the government representative responsible for relations with the Muslim community under the German Interior Ministry, reportedly told the Financial Times.

The move of Europe’s economic powerhouse is expected to influence Turkey’s state-led diaspora engagement with German-Turks as well as its state-level relations with Germany. But experts do not anticipate relations to further deteriorate as they say they are already as bad as they can get. 

Turks, mostly from the conservative section of society, have been emigrating to Germany since the early 1960s; originally as guest workers during the economic boom. They have since become the largest Muslim community in the country. 

Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community and provide homegrown training to all imams preaching in Germany. 

The largest Islamic organization in Germany is the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, which is affiliated to Turkey’s state directorate for religious affairs. Turkey is sending imams to Germany who are paid by the Turkish government and who are preaching in Turkish in 900 mosques funded by Ankara.

According to Yoruk Halil, a halal butcher living in Frankfurt, Germany’s new move will be beneficial for the Turkish Muslim community. 

“Those imams coming from Turkey do not benefit Turkish youth in Germany because these young people have been raised with a totally different culture and they mostly speak German, so they cannot establish a healthy dialogue with those imams,” Halil told Arab News. “In order to reach out to the Muslim community, including Turks, there is a need to use homegrown imams. 

My 15-year-old son has been going to the mosque for five years and he even told me that he has better communication with imams being trained and educated in Germany,” he said. 

There is also a continuing debate over requiring Muslims in Germany to pay a worship tax.

Turkey is against any “Germanification” of Islam and considers any redefinition of Islam for Germany against the universality of the religion. 

Germany’s move intends to further integrate Muslims’ daily routines into German society, to boost the loyalty of the 3 million members of the German-Turkish community.  It is therefore considered a move for breaking the Turkish community’s ties with their national and religious identity as well as their traditions.

Last year, German police recorded some 578 hate crimes against Muslims between January and September, while about half of Germans think that Islam is incompatible with the values of their nation, according to recent research by pollster YouGov.

“Turkey has been developing diaspora politics since the mid-2000s, and Turks in Germany have been put at the center of it,” Murat Onsoy, an expert in Turkey-Germany relations at Hacettepe University in Ankara, told Arab News. 

However, for Onsoy, the presence of imams in Germany who have been appointed by Turkey is a socialization factor for the Turkish diaspora — who show relatively low rates of crime — and to maintain their links with their home country. 

“If Germany rejects Turkish funding to these mosques, they will face serious difficulties in covering their expenses,” he said. 

Germany has a community of about 4.5 million Muslims worshipping at about 2,400 mosques, and the number is expected to rise with the refugee influx from Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Sy The German federal constitution, called Basic Law, gives autonomy to Muslim communities to receive funding and religious officials from abroad to operate mosques in Germany. 

“It is unlikely that this article of the constitution would be easily amended. Various provinces would react to such a move, resulting in widespread protests. The Turkish government would raise the issue at the intergovernmental Islamic organizations, and the German government would be obliged take a step back,” Onsoy said. 

He, however, draws attention to the timing of the debate. 

“It coincides with the upcoming local elections in Turkey this Sunday, and in the past we witnessed that such potential crises with Western countries have been used by the ruling government to consolidate its voters through engaging in international polemics and assuming the role of the defender of external Turks and ‘Islam’ worldwide,” he said. 

Ayhan Kaya, professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said that the move in Germany to bring a homegrown reading to Islam had already been on the table since Angela Merkel’s initiative in 2006. 

“Although it contradicts with the Sunni Islam rhetoric, what Germany did is a counter-move against the lobbying strategies of Muslim countries such as Turkey, Morocco or Algeria within German territories,” he told Arab News. 

Kaya also noted that in the past Germany and Turkey developed joint projects to train imams who would be appointed in Germany by providing them with linguistic and cultural-integration skills. 

“This latest move is a dialectic result of the political maneuvers on the diasporas by countries who are sending and receiving migration,” he said.