BANI SUHEILA, Gaza Strip — Bright green stained what was left of parsley farmer Amr Samour’s body: The Israeli tank shell that blew off much of his torso had embedded the plant onto his skin and guts, according to his father.
“I recognized him through one side of his face,” said Wahid Samour, covering the left side of his own face with the palm of his hand.
“I cried and cried — we all did,” Wahid said, sitting in his living room in the southern Gaza Strip.
Soon after his oldest son’s death on March 30, the 55-year-old Wahid was rushed to the hospital with dangerously high blood pressure.
Even though he wasn't a protester, Amr was the first Palestinian killed during the months-long Great March of Return demonstrations shaking the Gaza Strip and Israel. Demonstrations turned violent, and at least 142 protesters have been killed by Israeli troops, according to Gaza's health ministry. Israel has been widely criticized for using lethal force against largely unarmed protesters.
The rallies in Gaza are aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade first imposed when Hamas, the militant group that governs the enclave and is sworn to Israel’s destruction, came to power in 2007. More than 13,000 protesters have been injured.
Israeli officials accuse Hamas of encouraging civilians to put themselves in harm’s way and then used them as cover to commit violence. Israel is also battling large fires caused by the flaming kites and arson balloons launched from Gaza that have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed wildlife and livestock.
But the 27-year-old Amr's death in a field near the fence with Israel illustrates why tens of thousands of fellow Palestinians have for months risked bullets and tear gas to protest the blockade of the enclave. Israeli officials did not respond to requests for comment and information for this article.
Wahid said he believes soldiers guarding the 40-mile fence from what officials dubbed Palestinian “swarming attacks” should have known that his son was no threat.
“That area is very open area — they can see everything,” Wahid said. “They are shelling and shooting all the time, but this time it hit us.”
There is a growing sense that Israel and Hamas, which have fought three conflicts in the last 12 years, are headed toward another war. Meanwhile, the lives of ordinary Gazans are getting worse.
Nearly half of the 2 million residents of the strip are out of work — 65 percent of those aged 30 and under. Some 70 percent of the population depends on humanitarian aid — similar to the proportion of those who are refugees or descendants of refugees driven from their homes after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Almost none of the water is clean, raw sewage is pumped straight into the sea and worsening power shortages mean Gazans have electricity for only around four hours a day.
Amr’s death means his widow and two children, as well as his extended family, can no longer depend on around 150 shekels ($40) a week he used to earn as a contract farmer. Now the burden of supporting the family of ten has fallen entirely onto Wahid, who has seen his salary from the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, cut to around $300 a month. Some 60,000 fellow PA workers have had their salaries slashed in recent months.
Perversely, Amr’s death provided a lifeline for Wahid — a $3,000 payment from organizers of the March.
Despite his personal loss, Wahid said he supports the ongoing protests on the border fence, calling them “a good action.”
“Israel closed everything, the sea links and air links,” he said. “In your country, you can drive from area to area — nobody stops you. Here we are in a cage.”
Cages come in different sizes. The cage Amr's widow Dunya Samour inhabits is smaller, but no less restrictive.
“I cannot taste anything,” she said, sitting in her one-bedroom unfinished apartment above her father-in-law’s house. “I am hating my life.”
Dunya, the mother of a seven-month-old and a three-year-old, remembered Amr as a “good husband who wanted a simple life,” but he left her deeply in debt after buying doors, windows and a bed for the young family's apartment.
“He promised he would improve the house,” Dunya, 23, said as she sat surrounded by her mother, two sisters and a phalanx of children. “He promised he would buy us a refrigerator.”
Despite the hardship and grief that blanket the household, guests were served glasses of orange fizzy drink on a plastic tray covered in pink roses, hospitality being de rigueur in households here. Everybody sat on cushions on lined up on the sides of the room.
Dunya’s future is uncertain. As the widow of a martyr, or “shahid,” she is ostensibly honored. But she has no source of income aside from her father-in-law, and the “martyr payment” did not come to her. While Dunya could in theory remarry, this is difficult, as taking the widow of a shahid as a bride is widely seen as a dishonoring a martyr’s memory.
While Dunya spends a lot of time thinking about the bare basics — milk, diapers, rice and meat once a week — her eyes flashed in anger when she talked about Israeli soldiers encamped on the fence around Gaza.
“They never respect the law,” she said. “They kill people who don't have weapons.”
An end to this violent impasse looks far off, as Israel and much of the world have refused to deal with Hamas. Meanwhile, long-term talks aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state, including Gaza, the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, have stalled.
Unlike his daughter-in-law, Wahid said he does not blame soldiers themselves for the death that beset his family.
“They are soldiers, and young boys — they don’t understand,” he said. “They don’t know the story of the Palestinians. They tell them we are all terrorists.”