Middle East

Rani Burnat: Resisting injustice despite disability

“I live in a wheelchair, but it does not limit me from saying NO to the occupation, saying NO to oppression, and saying NO to injustice, slavery and bloodshed. I continue to say YES to peace, freedom, liberty and independence. I still participate in the protests we organize with Israeli and foreign activists who come to express solidarity with us. We protest against the racist wall, land confiscation and settlement construction. I am in front of the parade with my camera, with which I capture photographs. These photos are a tool in my struggle against injustice and those who are responsible for it.”  (Words of Rani Burnat)

Rani Burnat is a photographer, activist and human rights advocate.

On September 30, 2000, at the age of nineteen, Rani was shot in the neck by an Israeli soldier, an injury that has left him paralysed from the chest down. The near-fatal shooting happened during a non-violent demonstration in Ramallah in response to the action of then soon-to-be Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon.

On September 28, 2000, Sharon, escorted by over 1,000 Israeli police officers, made a highly controversial visit to the site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem – the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews. His visit was seen as highly provocative and resulted in an immediate wave of violence that is widely believed to have triggered the Second Intifada.

Since January 2005, the people of Bil’in, a village 12 kilometres west of Ramallah where Rani grew up, have been organising weekly non-violent demonstrations, attended by Palestinian, international and Israeli activists. This is part of the group’s ongoing effort to draw attention to the many injustices flowing directly from the Israeli occupation of the West bank.

Despite being severely disabled, Rani continues to resist Israel’s military occupation by protesting against the separation wall that has divided his village, separating the people of Bil’in from their agricultural land and olive trees: their main, and in some cases, only source of income.

Every Friday, Rani joins the peaceful demonstration and leads the people as they march towards the wall and stolen land – now a building site for an illegal Israeli settlement. Rani is well-known for his work in documenting the demonstrations through his photography.

Before being shot Rani studied electronics and planned to go to university in Iraq to study electrical engineering. After he was shot, his memory of electronics, languages and much of what he’d learned in school was lost.

Rani edits his photos on his laptop in his home in Bil’in.

A painful memory - Rani looks at a photo of himself on the day he was shot in the neck

A painful memory – Rani looks at a photo of himself on the day he was shot.

“On September 30th 2000, I participated in a parade to protest Sharon’s entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque,” writes Rani. “While we approached area B, a vast number of soldiers were waiting for us in the surrounding buildings and started to shoot live ammunition. They wounded and killed us, protestors whose only ammunition was their will.
 I was badly wounded and was announced as a martyr after a bullet hit my neck and my back, damaging the third and fourth spinal vertebra. I w
as paralyzed, lost my memory and could not speak. After a year of treatment and rehabilitation I was forced to remain in a wheelchair.” (Words of Rani Burnat)

Rani Burnat points to where he was shot in the neck by Israeli sniper fire.

Rani points to where the bullet hit him. He was shot with the internationally prohibited butterfly bullet, which fractures and splays on impact to cause as much organ damage as possible.

Where the bullet exited his body

Where the bullet exited through Rani’s back.

Rani leading the demonstrators towards the separation wall where Israeli soldiers wait

Rani leads demonstration supporters towards the separation wall where Israeli soldiers await.

Israeli soldiers fire teargas pre-emptively to try to disperse the approaching group of peaceful demonstrators

Israeli soldiers fire teargas pre-emptively to try to disperse the approaching group of demonstrators.

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“I have been wounded numerous times from rubber bullets and shock grenades. 
My injury has not stopped me from continuing my life like other people.”

Israeli soldiers fire teargas as a group of peaceful demonstrators approach.

Israeli and international activists escape the cloud of teargas fired by Israeli soldiers.

Rani is engulfed in tear gas during a demonstration.

The ammunition fired from Israeli tanks causes a fire to start

Ammunition fired from Israeli tanks sparks a fire.

“Despite the harsh conditions and the increasing burdens of life, I’m still a believer in justice and determined to continue resistance until we gain our freedom and independence. Together we all continue to struggle, with our writing and photography, to secure ourselves and our children’s lives full of love, peace, and safety.”

A demonstrator makes the universal peace sign as he walks away from the soldiers’ position.

The separation wall that has divided the village prevents the residents of Bil’in from accessing their agricultural land – land which is now a building site of an Israeli settlement. The construction of settlements on Palestinian land constitutes a breach of international law which has been repeatedly condemned by the UN and the international community following a number of UN resolutions declaring the ongoing building of Israeli settlements illegal.

During the weekly demonstrations children stay indoors out of danger. It’s not uncommon for the tear gas to drift into people’s homes causing serious health problems especially for children and the elderly. In October 2015, 18-month-old baby Ramadan Thawabteh died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops.

 

Rani shows his wife Hanedi and their three children some of his photos.