KHUZAA, Gaza Strip — A young medic in a head scarf runs into danger, her only protection a white lab coat. Through a haze of tear gas and black smoke, she tries to reach a man sprawled on the ground along the Gaza border. Israeli soldiers, their weapons leveled, watch warily from the other side.
Minutes later, a rifle shot rips through the din, and the Israeli-Palestinian drama has its newest tragic figure.
For a few days in June, the world took notice of the death of 20-year-old Rouzan al-Najjar, killed while treating the wounded at protests against Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Even as she was buried, she became a symbol of the conflict, with both sides staking out competing and mutually exclusive narratives.
To the Palestinians, she was an innocent martyr killed in cold blood, an example of Israel’s disregard for Palestinian life. To the Israelis, she was part of a violent protest aimed at destroying their country, to which lethal force is a legitimate response as a last resort.
Palestinian witnesses embellished their initial accounts, saying she was shot while raising her hands in the air. The Israeli military tweeted a tendentiously edited video that made it sound like she was offering herself as a human shield for terrorists.
In each version, Ms. Najjar was little more than a cardboard cutout.
An investigation by The New York Times found that Ms. Najjar, and what happened on the evening of June 1, were far more complicated than either narrative allowed. Charismatic and committed, she defied the expectations of both sides. Her death was a poignant illustration of the cost of Israel’s use of battlefield weapons to control the protests, a policy that has taken the lives of nearly 200 Palestinians.
It also shows how each side is locked into a seemingly unending and insolvable cycle of violence. The Palestinians trying to tear down the fence are risking their lives to make a point, knowing that the protests amount to little more than a public relations stunt for Hamas, the militant movement that rules Gaza. And Israel, the far stronger party, continues to focus on containment rather than finding a solution.
In life, Ms. Najjar was a natural leader whose uncommon bravery struck some peers as foolhardy. She was a capable young medic, but one who was largely self-taught and lied about her lack of education. She was a feminist, by Gaza standards, shattering traditional gender rules, but also a daughter who doted on her father, was particular about her appearance and was slowly assembling a trousseau. She inspired others with her outward jauntiness, while privately she was consumed with dread in her final days.
The bullet that killed her, The Times found, was fired by an Israeli sniper into a crowd that included white-coated medics in plain view. A detailed reconstruction, stitched together from hundreds of crowd-sourced videos and photographs, shows that neither the medics nor anyone around them posed any apparent threat of violence to Israeli personnel. Though Israel later admitted her killing was unintentional, the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime, for which no one has yet been punished. (...)