Gaza marks one year of Great Return marches
Since March 30 of last year, crowds have taken to border areas each week to protest. Israel has responded with lethal force, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.
Over the past 12 months, Palestinians in Gaza have insisted on continuing their protests along the border with Israel, demanding their internationally backed right to return to their historic Palestinian homeland, from which hundreds of thousands were forced to flee by violence or the threat of violence during the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.
The demand is based on UN's General Assembly resolution 194, which endorsed the Palestinians' right to return.
Weeks after the marches began Gaza-based Palestinian factions, headed by the ruling Islamist Hamas party, adopted another demand - that of lifting the 12-year Israeli blockade.
Every Friday, when the crowds take to the border areas, Israeli military snipers respond to demonstrators with live ammunition against the mostly peaceful protesters. Those who are "armed" carry only stones and slingshots; occasionally flammable kites to burn farmland on the Israeli side of the fence.
According to the Gaza-based health ministry, nearly 260 protesters - including women and children, journalists and paramedics - have been killed. and more than 20,000 others have been wounded. At least 114 of those wounded have lost a limb as a result of their injuries.
In the Gaza Strip, victims of the Israeli military's crackdown believe the latest Human Rights Council condemnation of Israel's use of lethal force against civilian protesters could yet provide potential for justice to be delivered.
|Every night, when I put my head on my pillow for some sleep, I start crying for hours. We, the mothers of Gaza, never want to be in such a position|
The New Arab visited Samira Albaz in Nuseirat, a refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. She is the mother of 17-year-old Montaser Albaz, who was killed in December 2018, during a peaceful protest in southern Gaza.
"I can only say that may God punish Israel for it has taken the life of my son and the lives of many other youths," she said. "I can never ever forget my beloved son and I really want to see justice for my him.
"Every night, when I put my head on my pillow for some sleep, I start crying for hours. We, the mothers of Gaza, never want to be in such a position. Our sons are calling for their given right to live in peace and freedom, away from the Israeli occupation. Why does Israel not lift the crippling blockade of Gaza and allow our sons to live normally? Why?"
Among the fatalities from the crackdown on the Great March of Return were two Palestinian journalists. Another 290 journalists have been wounded. Some 95 were hit by live ammunition.
"We have demanded those international legal bodies to take the lead, because the environment in Gaza or in the West Bank has turned into a dangerous zone for journalists," Tahseen Alastal, deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, told The New Arab.
"We have demanded the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2220, which clearly considers journalists non-combatants and neutral figures, who must not be harmed."
As the marches continued, new tactics were adopted, including the burning of used tires, launching incendiary balloons and creating loud noises in the border areas at night times - which they term as "night confusion".
According to Israeli sources, thousands of acres of farmlands in nearby Israeli towns have been razed by the incendiary balloons and kites launched by Palestinian protesters.
|People thought that once they gathered on the border areas, they would go back to their homeland|
Organisers of the Great March of Return insisted from the very beginning that the march should remain purely peaceful, with people taking part in sit-ins a few hundred metres from the border fence.
"The problem is that when we went to the camps, we saw that people came in very large numbers," Essam Hammad, a leading member of the steering committee of the Great March of Return, told The New Arab.
"People thought that once they gathered on the border areas, they would go back to their homeland. So, it was an amazing scene to us and I personally myself recall that I had advised the higher committee of the march to end the Great March of Return at eleven o'clock, one hour after it was launched on the first day."
Though asserting the right of return was the main goal of the Great March of Return, the ruling Hamas party in Gaza, along with other Gaza-based factions, mobilised Palestinian crowds towards another goal; lifting the 12-year Israeli blockade of the coastal enclave.
"Setting the goal of breaking the Israeli blockade is definitely enhancing the noble goal of return. Return is connected with the peaceful soft resistance, yet when some other violent or tough means are employed, this is because of the Israeli blockade, which in itself is a form of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. Hence, when this blockade is lifted, there will emerge the need to reach the goal of returning to the homeland, within a political agreement with the Israeli side,", Hussam Aldajany, a Gaza-based political analyst, told The New Arab.
The Great March of Return comes as both Gaza and the West Bank continue to be plagued by a 12-year divide in the Palestinian political scene. In the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority of the western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds power, Palestinians have not joined in Gaza's Great March of Return.
Mahmoud Alajramy, a Gaza-based Palestinian politician, told The New Arab that the PA's commitment to a "futile" political process with Israel has hindered unity of action among the Palestinian people, across the occupied Palestinian territories.
"The determination to continue reflects a real conviction that this is the right way, On the other side, the so-called peace process of the Oslo Accord is totally isolated and reached a final deadlock. The crowds' determination can be reflected in the communiques, and resolutions, which are against the state of Israel. The last of those resolutions was that of the UN's Human Rights Council," Alajramy noted.
Ahead of the first anniversary of the Great March of Return, Gaza saw concentrated Egyptian mediation efforts, which were aimed at bringing calm to the region, following an exchange of fire between Israel and the ruling Hamas party. Israel seeks calm on the border lines, while Hamas insists that the blockade is lifted.
According to Palestinian media reports, Israel might agree to largely ease its blockade - including the expansion of a fishing zone, the entry of some goods currently denied under the pretext of "dual use" and the creation of thousands of jobs for Gaza's crowds of unemployed by allowing in international funds.
In return, Hamas should rein in the situation for a sustainable period of calm, preventing rocket fire from the territory into nearby Israeli areas.
Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza.
Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari