The Great March of Return - one year on

The Great March of Return: Context

Palestinians have staged weekly protests near the Gaza fence with Israel as part of the Great March of Return protests since 30 March 2018. The Palestinian demonstrators are calling for the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007 and for the right to return to their ancestral homes in Israel, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. In the year since the weekly protests started, some 200 Palestinians have been killed, and more than 6,300 have been injured by Israeli live fire. 


The Great March of Return: An organiser’s perspective

- by Jehad Abusalim, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XLVII, No. 4 (Summer 2018, p. 90)

This essay explores the genesis of the Great March of Return in the context of a fragmented Palestinian body politic, blockade, and occupation, highlighting two major issues: the Palestinian refugee plight and the decade-long blockade on Gaza. The essay argues that the march represented a rare opening for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to reclaim a factionally controlled political sphere, and demonstrates that the organizers of the march valiantly strove to keep it going in the face of insurmountable challenges. It also contends that Israel’s bloody crackdown, the difficulties of organizing in a divided Palestinian body politic, and international inaction were factors in the protest’s loss of momentum, which ultimately set back the mass mobilization of the Gaza Strip. The march left Palestinians with many questions about the viability of nonviolent methods in the face of disproportionate Israeli force.

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What the Gaza Protests Portend

15 May 2018, Tareq Baconi, New York Review of Books

The battle against infiltration in the border areas at all times of day and night will be carried out mainly by opening fire, without giving warning, on any individual or group that cannot be identified from afar by our troops as Israeli citizens and who are, at the moment they are spotted, [infiltrating] into Israeli territory.

This was the order issued in 1953 by Israel’s Fifth Giv’ati Brigade in response to the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who sought to return to homes and lands from which they had been expelled in 1948. For years after the war, the recently displaced braved mines and bullets from border kibbutzim and risked harsh reprisals from Israel’s army to reclaim their property. The reprisals included raids on refugee camps and villages that often killed civilians, as the Israeli historian Benny Morris and others have laid out. Still, refugees persisted in their attempts to return, and Israel persisted in viewing these attempts as “infiltration.”

Over the past six weeks, Israeli soldiers have killed some forty Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them unarmed civilians, and injured more than five thousand protesters. As the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem Monday, the violence escalated alarmingly. Israeli forces shot dead at least another fifty Palestinians and injured more than 2,400, making it by far the bloodiest day yet in the current round of protests in Gaza.

Like their grandparents, these Palestinians are seeking justice and redress for their families’ expulsion from their land. Unlike the house-to-house reprisal attacks of the 1950s, however, today’s killings are carried out from a distance. Israeli snipers are positioned on raised berms just beyond the sophisticated fence and expansive buffer zone that separate Gaza from Israel. From this safe perch, soldiers aim their rifles and shoot Palestinian protesters; according to Amnesty International, the targeting includes “what appear to be deliberately inflicted life-changing injuries.” Yesh Gvul, the movement founded in 1982 by Israeli combat veterans who refused to serve in the war in Lebanon, has publicly endorsed the call by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem urging these soldiers to disobey a patently illegal order.

Yet the shootings continue. As in the 1950s, Israeli officials justify the army’s use of overwhelming lethal force as a necessary security deterrent. Calling the protests a “March of Terror,” Israel’s Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, noted that the army will not “hesitate to use everything [it] has” to stop them.

Palestinians in Gaza have preferred to name their demonstration the “Great March of Return.” It began on March 30, when thousands congregated close to crossing-points into Israel. The start date marked the anniversary of Israel’s shooting of six unarmed Palestinian citizens as they participated in strikes and marches in 1976 against the government’s appropriation of their private lands. The March of Return was planned to continue until May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” caused by the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. (For Palestinian citizens of Israel, even commemorating the day has been penalized since 2011 by the Nakba Law.) …

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Gaza’s Status Quo Unlikely to Change

22 October 2018, Tareq Baconi, Palestine Square

… The Great March of Return challenges the dynamic with Israel because, unlike Hamas’ rockets, marchers are bringing attention to Gaza and to Israel’s illegal tactics through peaceful means. In seeking to mitigate this challenge, Israel has sought to present the protests as an invasion of its borders, intentionally misrepresenting the nature of the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Israel has also relied on disproportionate force to militarize the protests and encourage their disintegration into violence. To date, Israeli snipers have killed around 200 Palestinians and injured close to 20,000 others. …

The dynamic of the past decade appears quite robust. Until one of the three challenges – popular resistance, Hamas’ pacification, humanitarian collapse – or another unpredictable event tips the balance, Israel is likely to remain committed to the status quo. For the demonstrators in Gaza, this promises a grim prospect, not only in terms of the blockade, but also with regard to being met with live fire as they protest for their inalienable Palestinian rights, and inevitably, an escalation into another devastating attack.

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Occupied Thoughts: Ahmed Abu Artema & the Great March of Return

18 March 2019, Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)

In this edition of FMEP’s podcast series “Occupied Thoughts,” Peter Beinart is joined by Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the key organizers of the Great March of Return in Gaza – which started nearly one year ago. Peter and Ahmed discuss the impetus behind the march, and what has sustained it for almost one year despite the deadly Israeli response.

Everywhere you go in Gaza, you see people wounded in the Return March

28 March 2019, Rami Younis, +972mag

Hasan al-Kurd, one of the organizers of last year’s Great March of Return in Gaza, says the protests gave people in Gaza a reason to live. In a frank interview, he talks about the shocking number of casualties, how Hamas took over the nonviolent initiative, and what he would do differently today.

“I thought we would hold the march for a month or two. That they’re still going is nothing short of astonishing,” he says. “It only goes to prove that we can continue this struggle forever, and I say that despite the fact that one of our only accomplishments is that we gave people in Gaza a reason to live.” …

“You see the injured everywhere in Gaza,” al-Kurd says.

“My family is among the wounded,” he continues. “I can’t walk down the street anymore without people blaming or complaining to me. It’s not the wounded people who complain, those whose lives were destroyed — it’s those around them who are the saddest and most frustrated.” …

“We understand them and we know it’s not personal,” al-Kurd says of himself and the other original organizers. “For every martyr, you see hundreds of wounded, and the wounded don’t fully recover because of the type of weapons Israel used against us.”

“I told you a year ago that we don’t have a reason to live in Gaza, and aside from the return march, most people here still don’t have a reason to live,” he adds. “On the other hand, people are very supportive — they understand that the occupation is a crime.”

Do you feel like Gazans still support your original idea?

“You tell me. A year later, despite the war crimes Israel committed, people still want to protest. That’s the level of despair we’ve reached in Gaza. The return march is the most talked-about thing in Gaza.” …

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