Emily Henochowicz, 21, was hit in the face by a tear gas canister Monday while attending a Ramallah protest against Israel’s raid on the Freedom Flotilla. Henochowicz was taken to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where she is undergoing surgery to remove her left eye.According to eyewitnesses, an Israeli soldier shot Henochowicz directly in the face during a demonstration at Qalandiya checkpoint today. Israeli troops forces fired volleys of tear gas at unarmed Palestinian and international protesters, spreading panic amongst the demonstrators and Palestinian workers lined up at the checkpoint.
“They clearly saw us,” said Sören Johanssen, a Swedish ISM volunteer standing with Henochowicz. “They clearly saw that we were internationals and it really looked as though they were trying to hit us. They fired many canisters at us in rapid succession. One landed on either side of Emily, then the third one hit her in the face.”
Henochowicz is a student at Cooper Union, a prestigious art school in Manhattan.
The demonstration was one of many that took place across the West Bank today in outrage over the Israeli military’s attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla and blatant violation of international law. Demonstrations also took place in inside Israel, Gaza and Jerusalem, with clashes occurring in East Jerusalem and Palestinian shopkeepers in the occupied Old City closing their businesses for the day in protest.
Tear gas canisters are commonly used against demonstrators in the occupied West Bank. In May 2009, the Israeli State Attorney’s Office ordered Israeli Police to review its guidelines for dispersing demonstrators after Bassem Abu Rahmah was hit and killed by a gas canister in Bil’in. Tear-gas canisters are designed to be used as a means of crowd dispersal, to be shot indirectly at demonstrators and from a distance. However, Israeli forces frequently shoot canisters directly at protesters.
The protest was held to condemn an Israeli military attack on the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships on the Freedom Flotilla at 5 a.m. this morning, during which soldiers opened fire on the hundreds of unarmed civilians aboard. No-one aboard the ships were carrying weapons of any kind, including for defense against a feared Israeli attack in international waters. At least 9 aid workers aboard the ship have been confirmed dead, with dozens more injured. The assault took place 70 miles off the Gaza coast in international waters, after the flotilla was surrounded by three Israeli warships.
The Freedom Flotilla, carrying 700 human rights activists from over 40 countries and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, was headed for the after an besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip. The Israeli blockade on Gaza, combined with the illegal buffer zone, has put a stranglehold on the territory. 42% of Gazans are unemployed, and food insecurity hovers around 60% according to figures from the Palestine Centre for Human Rights.