The Lancet : Razan Ashraf al-Najjar

The Lancet, volume 391, n° 10139, p. 2496.
Published: 23 June 2018

Volunteer medical emergency first aid worker for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was born on Sept 13, 1997, in Khuza’a, Gaza Strip, occupied Palestinian territory, and died after being shot while helping the wounded near the Israel–Gaza border, on June 1, 2018, aged 20 years.

“We have one goal—to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: without weapons we can do anything”, Razan al-Najjar told The New York Times in an interview earlier this year. Razan was a first aid volunteer for the Palestinian non-governmental organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) who was working near the Israel–Gaza border when she was shot by an Israeli soldier on June 1, 2018, while trying to help a wounded man. Her colleague Mahmoud Abdul Ati, who was also injured while tending the injured with Razan on the same day, told me that Razan was “one of the most committed to helping injured people, and she was very kind to her colleagues”. Razan’s funeral was attended by thousands of people who were shocked by the death of a young woman who was fulfilling her humanitarian duty. Since her death, many people having applied to train as PMRS volunteer emergency workers.

Razan grew up in Khuza’a, a small farming town near the armistice line separating Israel from the Gaza Strip in the Khan Younes district. Razan’s father, Ashraf, is a mechanic and is currently unemployed, and her mother, Sabrine, is a home maker. Razan was their eldest child and she had three brothers and two sisters. She attended a governmental school in Khuza’a but was unable to attend university because of family financial constraints.

When she was 18 years old, Razan began to volunteer as a medical emergency first aid worker at PMRS, after having received several short training first aid and nurse assistant courses with PMRS and at Al Naser Hospital. She worked as a volunteer at PMRS and Al Naser hospitals providing first aid to her community. Since what we Palestinians call the Great Return March began on March 30, 2018, Razan provided first aid and helped evacuate the wounded during these demonstrations. She had been slightly injured previously while helping the wounded but continued to volunteer as a front-line responder. She was known for her strength and commitment. In her interview with The New York Times she insisted that “being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women too”, and that women “have a big role here” in helping the injured.

On June 1, Razan and PMRS volunteers were providing first aid to the injured and working to evacuate them. The volunteers, including Razan, were wearing identifiable white uniforms that are worn by volunteer medical emergency first aid workers. Razan and her five colleagues shouted to the Israeli soldiers to alert them that they were medical people helping the injured with their hands in the air, as was shown on a CNN video. They were standing away from the borders and away from protests. Suddenly, an Israeli soldier started shooting with live ammunition. Razan was shot. She walked a few steps and collapsed and was taken to the European Gaza Hospital where she died. Two other PMRS volunteers were also hit with live ammunition in their legs but were not fatally wounded. A third colleague tried to run away but fell and broke his leg. Razan was the second medical worker to be killed by Israeli soldiers during Great Return March demonstrations, with more than 240 health workers affected by such attacks, of whom 29 have been injured with live ammunition.

Her mother told me that Razan spent her life occupied by her humanitarian work for PMRS. Her mother added: “a person does not have words to describe how I feel. I wanted to tell the world that Razan is gone, and I am here instead of her. This is why I began to volunteer myself with PMRS at the front line. What Razan did is humanitarian work, and I cannot understand why they killed her. Even though she was exposed to danger and great strain, she was insistent. When I began to volunteer as a PMRS first aid worker, I began to realise what it means to serve people in hardship.” Razan is survived by her family. She will be sorely missed by her PMRS family. As her mother told me: “Razan died but her mission continues.”

Al-Hlou Y, Collier N, Abuheweila I. The Palestinian medic killed by Israeli soldiers. The New York Times online. 2018. (accessed June 11, 2018)

Lee I, van Heerden D. “Her only weapon was her medical vest”: Palestinians mourn death of nurse killed by Israeli forces. CNN June 4, 2018. (accessed June 11, 2018)

WHO. Situation report occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza 23–29 May, 2018. (accessed June 11, 2018)

I am President of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.

Mustafa Barghouti