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Palestine: The great march of return

The People Of Palestine Are On The March

Tuesday 2 April 2019, by siawi3


The People Of Palestine Are On The March

By Vijay Prashad,

March 31, 2019

The bombs start again. Israel, as if on a timer, begins to pulverize Gaza. The bombs strike from one end of the country to another, a warning against the protests that have been ongoing for a year. There is a shudder from Gaza, phone calls to friends who say that they are fearful that this bombing run will escalate. Nothing is beyond Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who will use these bombs as an advertisement for his campaign to be reelected as Israel goes to the polls on April 9. The phone lines carry the sound of scared children and anxious adults, a building demolished, the warplanes shrieking overhead.
Abu Artema’s Birds

In January of last year, the Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Artema sat at his computer in his home in Rafah (Gaza, Palestine). He had just returned home from a walk in this 365-square-kilometer (141-square-mile) enclave that sits on the Mediterranean Sea. There is a hint of paradise in Gaza—the sea on one side, the citrus groves on the other. But the entire piece of land—populated by 2.2 million Palestinians—is hemmed in by the Israeli occupation. The land is dotted with barbed wire fences and ditches, with armed guards on alert to shoot where and when they will, and the sea is patrolled by Israeli naval vessels, which routinely stop and arrest Palestinian fishermen. Paradise is encircled by barbed wire and gunboats. Abu Artema decided to write a plea.

“No one stopped the birds,” he thought during his walk as he saw a flock of birds fly across the perimeter fence. The Israeli occupation, he felt, “clips my wings” and “disrupts my evening walks.” What if a Palestinian from Gaza decided to “see himself as a bird and decides to reach a tree beyond the fence,” he mused? “If the bird was Palestinian, he would be shot.”

So, this journalist—a father of four young children—wrote the following simple question: “What would happen if thousands of Gazans, most of them refugees, attempted to peacefully cross the fence that separated them from their ancestral lands?” The answer, plainly, was that they would be shot.
Land Day

In 1976, the Israeli government announced the seizure of 20,000 dunams of land in the Galilee. The government declared a curfew so that it could proceed with the land theft without protest. It miscalculated. Pressure grew from below, so Tawfiq Ziad—the mayor of Nazareth (the largest Palestinian city inside Israel’s 1948 lines)—called for a general strike. The strike on March 30, 1976, was almost total, with the Israeli State reacting to it with ferocity. The land was seized, but March 30 became a monumental day, Land Day, an annual commemoration of the struggle against the Israeli occupation.

Abu Artema’s plea made in January 2018 became real on March 30, 2018, when the Great March of Return began. The initial plan was to start the protests on Land Day and then continue until May 15, the day to commemorate the Nakba or the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland in 1948. But the energy opened up by the Great March of Return could not be contained. This protest, held each Friday, began with 30,000 Palestinians on Land Day in 2018 and continues with tens of thousands of Palestinians each week.

When Abu Artema took to his Facebook page, he would not have been able to drink water—even if boiled—from his tap. That month, the Palestinian Water Authority warned that 97 percent of Gaza’s water was undrinkable because of high levels of sewage and salinity. It was lucky that Abu Artema was able to get on Facebook. Gaza only gets power for about four hours per day. The Israelis blame the Hamas government in Gaza for these problems. Such a story is only possible for someone with no memory.

In each of the punctual bombings of Gaza since Operation Hot Winter (2008), Israel has targeted Gaza’s power plant and its water sources (wells, water towers, sewage pipelines and sewage treatment plants). Millions of dollars of damage are done to Gaza’s infrastructure, which then cannot be repaired because Israel prevents materials from entering the enclave. Because of the Israeli bombings and Israeli embargo, Gaza, the United Nations has found, will become “uninhabitable by 2020.”

It is no wonder the Great March of Return has seen such large crowds, so many people—including children—coming to the fence each week despite the Israeli snipers and the tear gas. Palestinians set up tents out of range of the snipers so that they could feed the protesters and heal them. The destruction of infrastructure put a heavy burden on Palestinian women, which deepened their political commitment and brought them to set up and work in these encampments.

Medical personnel and journalists would be on hand, thinking that their professions gave them immunity. It did not. The Israeli snipers fired at them: two journalists were killed, 184 journalists injured; three medics were killed, 181 medics injured. Hind Khoudary, a journalist, said that her work has been “more than [a] nightmare. I would have never imagined I would see people shattered into pieces.”

War Crimes

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 196 people have been killed by the Israeli armed forces, while 11,427 people have been wounded (over 500 of them are in serious condition, with at least 300 having had at least one leg amputated). The United Nations office in Palestine (OCHA) says that the number of injured is double this—23,603 from March 30 to the end of December 2018.

Last year, as the violence by Israel on the Gaza perimeter fence escalated, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council set up a panel of inquiry (comprised of Argentina’s Santiago Canton, Bangladesh’s Sara Hossain and Kenya’s Kaari Betty Murungi). On March 18, the panel submitted its report. Israel’s government, which did not cooperate, rejected the report. The report found that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such.” The Chair of the panel, Santiago Canton, went further, saying that the panel “has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of these violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

So, there it stands. The international community’s panel says that war crimes were committed, but the legal framework stops at the borders of Israel. Must be immediately investigated by Israel. But Israel will do no such thing. It has rejected the panel and its findings. There will be no investigation of the war crimes beyond what the panel has found. Instead, Israel has begun to bomb from the sky.

Israel will hold an election on April 9, a little more than a week after the first anniversary of the Great March of Return. On the anniversary itself, tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to walk towards the perimeter. Last Friday, on March 22, Israeli soldiers killed Nedal ’Abdel Karim Ahmed Shatat (age 29) and Jihad Munir Khaled Hararah (age 24). Israeli tear gas canisters flew into the medical field station at Bureij Refugee Camp. About 181 Palestinians were injured on that day. This shows that neither the Palestinian protesters nor the Israeli soldiers will back down.

Israel’s government is undaunted by the UN findings. The Palestinians have no choice but to protest. The confrontation will escalate on the first anniversary of the March. The Israelis will be harsh, harsher to give Benjamin Netanyahu the kind of muscular response that allows him to bully his way back to power.

Abu Artema’s birds—perhaps they are terns or gulls—continue to fly back and forth. They emerge out of the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, the poem that asks, Where should we go after the last frontiers? Where should the birds fly after the last sky? Palestinians will remain in this vast congested open-air prison called Gaza, hemmed in and forgotten, bombed once more, mercilessly.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.



Gaza Marks Great March Of Return Anniversary

By Ahmad Kabariti,

March 31, 2019

See all photos here

Above photo: Protesters at anniversary of Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.
“We thirst for dignity.”

Human waves flooded the Israel-Gaza fence beginning Saturday morning marking the first anniversary of the Great March of Return protests, facing off against Israeli forces behind the fortified barbed-wire fence. The demonstrators gathered despite rain, and even as Egypt is seeking to mediate a deal to end the blockade of Gaza.

For the fifty-second week in succession, Israeli military’s tear gas canisters, live rounds and rubber bullets broke into the shouts of demonstrators, more than 40,000 (according to Israeli army), gathering at several locations along the border. Three Palestinians were killed and more than 200 others injured.

Protesters at anniversary of Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

In the year since the protests started, at least 267 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

A commission of inquiry was set up by the UN Human Rights Council to report on likely war crimes. Thirty-five of the fatalities were children; three were clearly marked paramedics; and two were clearly marked journalists, the commission found. The inquiry found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers had targeted children, medics and journalists.

The rallies have been held every week since March 30 last year. Palestinians want an end to the Israeli occupation of their lands. They also demand the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland.

Protesters at anniversary of Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

The fence and the berms for Israeli soldiers. Anniversary of Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Approaching the fence. Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

On the eve of the protests, Israeli soldiers and tanks were deployed near the fence separating the occupied territories from the besieged Gaza Strip.

The reinforcements were deployed on Friday morning. Gaza medical officials said later in the day that Israeli troops shot and wounded 10 Palestinians on the Gaza perimeter fence on the day.

“Their (Israelis) tanks and warplanes no longer scare us” said Saber al- Ashqar, 35. A double amputee, he kept three fist-size-rocks between his thighs to hurl them by a slingshot towards the hidden soldiers. “We are not hungry for food; we thirst for stolen freedom and dignity.”

Saber al- Ashqar. At anniversary of Great March of Return protests, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Al-Ashqar, a father of four sons, injured in an air strike in 2008 war on Gaza, said he could be the successor to Ibrahim abu Thuraya, a wheelchair-bound activist who was shot dead in December 2017 by Israeli snipers as he protested against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Jerusalem must be restored,” al- Ashqar said. Israel is not deceiving Palestinians by allowing more goods into Gaza, or expanding the fishing zone off the coast. “Who said we need ‘Ghobbos’ [the name of a popular fish in Gaza] or Nutella jars,” he told Mondoweiss.

Meanwhile, Hamas, which rules Gaza, had pledged to keep the crowds a safe distance from the fence as Egyptian mediators were working to cement a deal that Hamas hopes will ease a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the crowded territory.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said the group had received “positive signs” from the Egyptians. He added that the Egyptian team was to return to Israel on Sunday to continue the talks. “We will continue our marches until all our goals are achieved,” he said.

Asad Zaneen, at anniversary of Great March of Return protests, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Despite heavy rain, Asad Zaneen, 26, a truck driver, was heading by crutches toward the fence, shouting: “No more fear! Why are you scared? Go closer my friends!”

“I will not go back until our depressed people gain their rights, so nothing will force me going back even if I lost my four limbs,” Zaneen said. He was shot in the leg by an explosive bullet last January.

Protester at anniversary of Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

“Next month I will complete three years of unemployment,” said Madeeha abu Aljabeen, 26, a nurse and mother of an infant. “For sure, Israel is responsible for that.”

Madeeha and her 59–year-old mother, Rabeeha, have experienced the same frustration, and they believe the majority of the protesters share “deep wounds” to the heart.

“We always predict the worst, as wisdom is absent,” Rabeeha said. “Feelings explode, as grenades do.”

Injured protester at anniversary of Great March of Return demonstration, Gaza, March 30, 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

Her daughter added: “Who knows how many months or years should we count to touch a real improvement in our people’s life? Therefore, it seems there is no alternative but to continue demonstrating to mark second and third anniversaries of the protest.”