Support for Gaza from the Israeli side of the fence
JERUSALEM - Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have protested for weeks at the Gaza-Israeli border for the Great March of Return, demanding the right to return to their lands. On the other side of the border fence, a small group of Israelis have stood up for Gazans, speaking out against the killing of Palestinians and urging an end to the siege.
During the protests, which largely take place on Fridays, more than three dozen Palestinians, including children, have been killed. Thousands of protesters have been injured and even journalists have been targeted by the Israeli military. Thirteen reporters have been shot with live ammunition.
On the first day of the campaign, March 30, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) responded with what many considered to be excessive force; 15 protesters were killed and more than 1,000 others were wounded. The next day, the IDF said ten of the Palestinians who had been killed were known terrorists and that unarmed civilians who stayed away from the border fence would not be targeted.
Several weeks later, after more protesters were killed and injured, the army dropped leaflets saying “Hamas endangers your lives” and urging Palestinians to stay away from the protests.
The violence and the IDF’s attempts to stop or decrease the size of the protests have not kept the Palestinians from participating.
“The march is an effective way to highlight the unbearable living conditions facing residents of the Gaza Strip: four hours of electricity a day, the indignity of having our economy and borders under siege, the fear of having our homes shelled,” wrote Fadi Abu Shammalah, executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centres in Gaza, in the New York Times.
Shammalah recognised that Hamas supporters participate in the protests but said he hasn’t seen a single Hamas flag or Fatah banner at the border. “The Great Return March is not Hamas’s action. It is all of ours,” he wrote.
Gazans have been negatively affected by Israel’s siege and hope the march will raise international awareness. Aseel Noor, 33, has not participated in the March of Return due to a recent back surgery but said she supports her friends and colleagues at the border. “We have the right to ask for political change,” Noor said by phone.
Despite having a bachelor’s degree in media and public relations, Noor, who lives in Nuseirat, hasn’t been able to work in more than two years. “Like the majority of citizens in Gaza, we are refugees. We used to own property and we were rich. Now we are poor and live in the worst conditions,” Noor said.
The day after the first Palestinians were killed, the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), a feminist, anti-occupation organisation, initiated a protest near the border fence that attracted about 150 Israelis who stood in solidarity with Gaza.
“The support is only among a small, specific group of Israelis but they have helped us reach the Gazan people who now know there are Israelis out there who don’t support the crimes of the Israeli government,” said CWP activist Marwa Hanna. “I don’t believe we will incite political change but we’re achieving social change.”
Omer, a 25-year old student at the protest, said: “Gaza is the most crucial issue about the occupation.”
“It’s 2 million people living in an unbearable situation. Most Israelis think we’re out but, in reality, Gaza is completely controlled by Israel and the Palestinians there couldn’t have a normal life if they wanted to,” he added.
Omer volunteers on weekends to help protect West Bank farmers from Israeli settler violence and harassment. “Most Israelis would consider me an enemy of the state for my work in the West Bank or just for being at this protest,” Omer said.
CWP organised protests and gatherings in Tel Aviv and Haifa after its first protest at the Gaza border. Hanna said the organisation will keep doing so after the March of Return comes to an end.
The protests in Gaza are supposed to last 45 days, ending May 15. The first day, March 30, commemorated Land Day, the day in which six Palestinians were killed in 1976 while protesting land confiscations. The last day, May 15, will be the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” The Nakba commemorates the mass displacement of Palestinians that preceded the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.