Most Gazans are Palestinian refugees or their descendants, and marching on the fence highlights their desire to reclaim the lands and homes from which they were displaced 70 years ago in the war surrounding Israel’s creation.
A fence that divides Israel and Gaza has become the latest flashpoint in the decades-old conflict, with Israeli soldiers unleashing lethal force against mostly unarmed Arab protesters who have been demonstrating every Friday for the past several weeks.
The image above shows how each side is arrayed in Khan Younis, one of five demonstration sites where 34 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began nearly three weeks ago.
The protests resumed on Friday, and the Palestinians plan to keep the weekly protests going with large turnouts until May 15, when many plan to try to cross the fence en masse. The Gazans are protesting Israel’s blockade, which has been choking off the impoverished coastal strip for more than 10 years. They also want to reassert the rights of refugees and their descendants to reclaim their ancestral lands in Israel, 70 years after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced.
“Our legitimate protest against Israeli military occupation, colonization and apartheid is granted in international law and must be protected by the international community. . . . The 70-year-old practice of Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy and dehumanization of the Palestinian people must end.”
— Dr. Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to Washington
Tens of thousands of residents in the besieged Gaza Strip plan on returning to the Israeli-controlled border Friday [Apr 6] in defiance of menacing promises from Tel Aviv to use massive and disproportionate force. The event will occur exactly one week after the Israelis massacred 17 unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition on Palestinian Land Day.
The protest is the latest in a six-week-long set of nonviolent protests meant to commemorate the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people and the absorption of ancestral Palestinian land by the country now known as Israel.
The series of events will last until the 15th of May, a date making the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel — known to Palestinians as Nakba Day, or “The Day of Catastrophe” — when three-quarters of a million Palestinians were brutally displaced by Israeli militia in 1948.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that on Friday 491 people were injured by live ammunition after Israeli forces fired on protesters who had gathered near the Israeli border in the besieged Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian journalist shot by Israeli forces during a mass demonstration along the Gaza border has died of his wounds.
Yaser Murtaja, a photographer with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, was shot in the stomach in Khuza’a in the south of the Gaza Strip on Friday, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Murtaja, 30, was hit despite wearing a blue flak jacket marked with the word “press,” indicating he was a journalist.
“Just imagine what could have happened. Picture the outcome if they would have burst through the fence, even at a single point, and begun marching into Israel. It would have ended in a bloodbath. . . . We would have no choice but to employ enormous force, and that would have resulted in dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties. The images would have been a huge victory for the Palestinians.”
— Senior Israeli defense official, speaking anonymously
The March 30 Great March of Return to the Gaza border fence was nothing more than Act 1 of an unfolding drama, a dress rehearsal or possibly a pilot for what one can expect to see in the very near future. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are now preparing for April 17, Palestinian Prisoners Day, also the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, and for May 15, Nakba Day, also the day after the United States is expected to open its new embassy in Jerusalem. Further complicating matters, the latter event coincides with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Great March of Return was initiated and orchestrated by Hamas in an attempt to change the rules of the game, create a new balance of power and send a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people is far from over. Hamas is alive and kicking, and it is marching as well.
Hamas is in the process of losing its tunnels as a weapon. The IDF and Egypt have also successfully prevented the group from smuggling into Gaza rockets, missiles and other arms that could break the balance of power. Facing the most threatening dead end ever, Hamas found a way to reinvent itself: a popular, mass march by tens of thousands of people, all heading to the Israeli border at the Erez checkpoint, where they would trample the fence, break the Israeli siege and move on toward Jerusalem or at least to the southern town of Ashkelon. Images of IDF tanks and helicopters firing at civilians marching for their freedom would be Israel’s worst imaginable nightmare.
That is why the IDF has decided not to let that happen.
There are no efforts to hold Israel to account for its recent massacre of civilians. Instead, Israel has rejected UN and EU calls for an inquiry into the killings and a UN Security Council resolution on the matter was blocked by the United States.
Over the weekend, outrage took hold as the state of Israel authorized more than 100 snipers to fire upon the demonstrations of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza. The Palestinians, participating in the “March of Great Return” to demand the right for exiled Palestinians to return to their ancestral lands, were fired upon while fleeing and even praying. 17 Palestinians were killed and over 1,400 were injured. The Gaza Health Ministry stated that most of the reported injuries were bullet wounds to the legs and feet. The Israeli Defense Forces stated on Twitter that they were fully aware of where “every bullet landed” and Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the snipers “did what had to be done” and “deserve a commendation.”
The outrage, however, was confined to only a few countries as, throughout the West, the horrific event was the subject of slanted reports — such as those that portrayed the Israeli military firing on unarmed demonstrators as “clashes” — or was not even covered at all. Despite the number of people killed and the flagrant violation of international law, the story didn’t even make the Sunday edition of The New York Times, the US “paper of record.”
“These are the predictable outcomes of a manifestly illegal command: Israeli soldiers shooting live ammunition at unarmed Palestinian protesters. What is predictable, too, is that no one — from the snipers on the ground to top officials whose policies have turned Gaza into a giant prison — is likely to be ever held accountable.”
— Amit Gilutz, spokesman for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem
The morning after burying 19-year-old Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi, his family gathered in a tent set up to receive mourners, watching and re-watching a video of the moment they say Israeli soldiers shot him in the back of the head.
The video appears to show the teenager, dressed in black, running away from Gaza’s border fence with Israel carrying a tire. Just before reaching a crowd, he crumples under gunfire.
“He had no gun, no molotov, a tire. Does that harm the Israelis, a tire?” asked his brother Mohamed Abdul Nabi, 22. “He wasn’t going toward the Israeli side. He was running away.”
If the demonstrations continue, and Israel responds the way it did today, there is a significant risk that the death count will rise, and an already complicated situation will get worse.
Israeli troops opened fire Friday at Palestinians near the Gaza Strip’s border with the Jewish state, killing at least 15 people and wounding many more. The numbers came from the Palestinian health ministry, which put the number of those injured at more than 1,000.
The Palestinian demonstration at the border, dubbed the Great March of Return, was billed as peaceful and nonviolent. Protesters pitched tents near the border with Israel and demanded that refugees be allowed to return to homes they left behind in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel. Israel, which estimates that 17,000 Palestinians have gathered near the border at six locations, said its troops were enforcing “a closed military zone.” The Israeli army also said it opened fire toward the “main instigators” of what it called rioters who were “rolling burning tires and hurling stones at the security fence and at” Israeli troops. Israel had warned Gaza residents against protesting, and said Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, was “cynically” sending women and children “to the security fence and endangering their lives.”
The date the protest began, March 30, is the anniversary of Land Day, a 1976 event in which Israelis killed six Palestinians who were protesting the confiscation of their lands. The protests are expected to last until May 15, the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, which the Palestinians view as a “naqba” or “catastrophe” for their people.