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Despite Israel’s threats of violence, Gaza protesters have peaceful dream

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“What if 200,000 Palestinians headed peacefully to cross the border [into their ancestral home, now called Israel], while raising a poster that says they only want to go back to their land? What would happen?”

It all started in 2011 with that Facebook post, the dream of a 33-year-old man in Gaza named Ahmed Abu Ratima. Gazing at a tree on the other side of the barbed fence that separates the Strip from the land now known as Israel, Abu Ratima thought, “Why can’t I go and sit under that tree just for a while, like a free bird?”

Ahmed Abu Ratima

As the Arab Spring swept the region, Abu Ratima and his friends issued a statement titled “The Palestinian Refugees Revolution,” calling all Palestinian refugees to peacefully gather at the nearest point by the Israeli border to call for their rights. However, at that time, they were considered crazy. But they didn’t forget. And this year, Abu Ratima and his friends found encouragement.

“People are ready for this idea now more than at any other time,” explains Abu Ratima, whose family originally lived in Ramle (now in central Israel).

The Great March of Return will start on Land Day, March 30, and will continue for six weeks until May 15, which commemorates the Nakba (catastrophe), when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes to make way or the creation of Israel. Palestinian refugees living in Gaza will set up tents near the border and move gradually—and peacefully—closer.

Muthana al-Najjar, a journalist whose family is originally from Salamah (just east of Jaffa), was the first to set up a tent near the border, when he has spent more than 40 of his days to date.

“You may think only a crazy one would think of something like this,” he says. “But it’s a dream that moves something inside us, that others have tried to make us forget—our right to return.”

In his tent, al-Najjar gathers with elders from the nearby town and listens to them tell stories about their ancestral land.

The banner says, “The right of return is a right of every individual refugee that is not negotiable.”

Why is now the right time?

The situation in Gaza today is at its worst in recent history.

“The streets are full of beggars,” says Hasan Ahmed (who asked that his last name not be used), a member of the coordinating committee for the Great Return March. “Our goal is to put the crises of Palestinians on the table for everyone to see, and we will do so by the gathering of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees close to the border line.”

According to a January report of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor:

  • 97 percent of Gaza water is unfit for human consumption.
  • 45 percent of medicines are absent from the warehouses of the Gaza Ministry of Health, along with 28 percent of needed medical equipment.
  • 50 percent of Palestinian children need psychological counseling.
  • Only 54 percent of requested medical transfers to outside hospitals in 2017 were approved—the lowest since 2006.
  • 44 percent of the adult Gaza population is unemployed. Among youth, it’s 62 percent and among those with disabilities, it’s 90 percent.
  • 65 percent of families live in poverty (95 percent among fishermen) and more than 72 percent don’t have enough food.

Despite the Israeli government’s threats of drone-dropped teargas bombs and live ammunition shot at anyone who tries to cross out of Gaza, activists believe it is the only vehicle Palestinians have after trying endless negotiations that produce nothing and resorting to violent confrontations.

“Palestinians in the Gaza Strip don’t have a lot of choices; we are cornered. We either risk our lives to take a stand or we slowly die while we wait for our rights,” explains Abu Ratima.

Some pundits have proposed combining Gazans with the Sinai for a Palestinian state. But this option is refused totally by Palestinians. With all other refugees, such as Syrians and Africans who reach Israel, the international community’s preferred action is to send them back to their homeland. Why are Palestinians treated differently?

“We are not trying to go to other countries; in fact, we are attempting to return to our ancestral lands, which were stolen from us 70 years ago,” explains Abu Ratima. “This right was guaranteed for us through UN Resolution 194. How is it fair or logical for Israel to allow in millions of people from different nationalities, like Russians, while the original residents of the land are forced to live here in a prison?”

However, although named the Great Return March, the action is more than a call for the right for Palestinians to be in their homeland. The organizers also hope Israelis will participate and envision a time when both peoples can live together in one state.

“We don’t accept or agree on the two-state solution, for it is a discriminating one. Instead, we work toward one state with both Palestinians and Jewish people who will be under a government we all elect,” he adds.

And finally, the march is designed to back the Israeli government into a corner. Israel claims that it only defends itself against “weaponized” Palestinians who threaten the security and safety of its Jewish residents.

“Will Israel kill civilians who march forward in peaceful groups? We don’t have any weapons in our hands, so what excuse will Israel use this time?” al-Najjar asks.

A version of the post was originally published by We Are Not Numbers.

Enas Fares Ghannam

Enas Fares Ghannam, 28, is a freelance English-Arabic translator. She earned a bachelor's degree in English education from Al-Azhar University and a diploma in translation from the Islamic University of Gaza.

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23 Responses

  1. eljay on March 29, 2018, 2:39 pm

    “What if 200,000 Palestinians headed peacefully to cross the border [into their ancestral home, now called Israel], while raising a poster that says they only want to go back to their land? What would happen?” …

    The result would be:
    – a shockingly large number of murdered Palestinians; and
    at least one Zionist with excessive-masturbation injuries.

    • Stephen Shenfield on March 29, 2018, 8:24 pm

      The IDF has already shot Palestinian farmers and other unarmed people who come within a certain distance of the Gaza border. They will claim that some of them are armed.

      • Misterioso on March 30, 2018, 4:24 pm

        “15 Palestinians Killed, Dozens Wounded as Thousands Gather on Gaza-Israel Border for ‘March of Return.'”

        LIVE UPDATES: IDF fires live ammunition as 30,000 Palestinians demonstrate throughout Gaza for ‘March of Return’ ■ Soldiers exchange fire with two Palestinians on border ■ Abbas asks UN to provide protection for demonstrators ■ IDF expects demonstrations to continue for weeks

        by Jack Khoury, Yaniv Kubovich and Almog Ben Zikri. Mar 30, 2018 10:41 PM – Haaretz.

        “Around 30,000 Palestinians rallied throughout the Gaza Strip on Friday during the “March of Return,” a series of mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded during clashes with Israeli soldiers over several hours, after a number of protesters threw stones and firebombs toward soldiers stationed along the fence.”

        “According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 1,416 people were wounded: 758 from live fire, 148 from rubber-tipped bullets, 422 from inhaling tear gas and 88 from other causes. Palestinian officials said that one was killed and 237 wounded in Rafah; four were killed and 345 wounded in southern Gaza; five were killed and 286 wounded in northern Gaza; two were killed and 197 wounded in central Gaza; and three were killed and 351 wounded in Khan Yunis.

        “The ‘March of Return’ marks Land Day, a day Palestinians worldwide have commemorated since 1976, when Israeli security forces shot dead six Israeli Arabs who were protesting the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish communities. About 100 others were wounded and hundreds were arrested during the protest on March 30 of that year.

        “Backed by the Hamas government in Gaza, Palestinians have established several tent camps housing thousands near the border. Thousands of Palestinians will camp out near the fence as an extended protest until Nakba Day in mid-May, with weekly demonstrations on Fridays.”

  2. gamal on March 29, 2018, 4:38 pm

    I have always entertained a lively affection for the name Faris, and oh god you a are graduate of Al-Azhar, others may not appreciate what that means, suitably overawed I will make myself scarce.

  3. guyn on March 29, 2018, 5:50 pm

    Very eager to see what will happen and how it will be reported in the West.

    • Stephen Shenfield on March 29, 2018, 8:25 pm

      The mainstream media will not report it at all.

      • guyn on March 29, 2018, 11:02 pm

        I don’t know Stephen, they hope to bring some hundreds of thousands totally non-violent people. If the Israelis start to shoot at them, it will be difficult to hide the news. And they don’t intend to cross the border contrary to what “mondonut” is saying.

      • Emory Riddle on March 30, 2018, 8:58 am

        The Gazans will be slaughtered and the MSM will report the Israeli take — we can never forgive them for making us slaughter them.

      • catalan on March 30, 2018, 10:15 am

        “The mainstream media will not report it at all” Stephen
        Actually it is the leading article on Yahoo. It describes the protest, its goals, and the Israeli response. It skips the part about Passover, Purim, and Jewish financiers though.

      • John O on March 30, 2018, 10:18 am

        Being reported in the Guardian – at least seven Palestinians dead so far. Note it’s not all just trhe Israeli view, either:

  4. mondonut on March 29, 2018, 8:40 pm

    There is nothing peaceful about 200,000 persons crossing borders against the wishes of another country. Not here, and not anywhere in the world.

    • oldgeezer on March 29, 2018, 9:52 pm

      What borders are they? Israel claims all territory West of the Jordan. Don’t you listen to the GoI. Are they liars? Are they untrustworthy?

      This is a march of the oppressed minority living on the land they (Israel) claim is theirs and who are denied any form of citizenship or basic human rights.

      Who even though they will be unarmed will be met by armed troops whose orders are to shoot to kill.

      Have not nutty, bennet, shaked, and other assorted scum stated there will be no other state west of the jordan? Have they not denied that the individuals who have lived their for hundreds or thousands of years. Even denied their existance? Have they not dehumanized them sufficiently for your liking?

      Sorry to be long winded. I could have just said that the iof are cold blooded killers of innocents. And that Israelis are dyed in the wool racists and saved a lot of typing.

      No, Israel is not better than the hellholes it likes to compare itself with. It is far far worse.

      • mondonut on March 29, 2018, 11:43 pm


        What border?
        “What if 200,000 Palestinians headed peacefully to cross the border…”

        And no, Israel makes no claim to Gaza.

      • Emory Riddle on March 30, 2018, 8:59 am

        And no, Israel makes no claim to Gaza.

        Well, except for the fact they control everyone and every thing that can go into or come out of Gaza.

      • Misterioso on March 30, 2018, 11:13 am

        @oldgeezer, et al

        For the record regarding Palestinian refugees:

        In a sane and just world, Israel would have long since been expelled from the UN or at least had its membership suspended for failing to abide by the commitments it made as a prerequisite for gaining membership.

        After being denied admittance twice, Israel again sought UN membership in 1949. In order to be considered for membership, Israel formally agreed at the United Nations to obey the UN Charter, comply with General Assembly Resolution 194 regarding the repatriation of and/or compensation for the then about 800,000 Palestinian refugees** (based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, binding on all UN members), and to accept Resolution 181, the Partition Plan, as a basis for negotiations. Israel also signed the Lausanne Protocol at the 1949 Lausanne Peace Conference and thereby reaffirmed its commitment to Resolutions 194 and 181.

        Israel’s pledge to abide by the terms of Resolution 194, Resolution 181 and the UN Charter was made legally binding by including it in General Assembly Resolution 273 (11 May 1949) granting Israel UN membership:

        “Having received the report of the Security Council on the application of Israel for membership in the United Nations,

        “Noting that, in the judgment of the Security Council, Israel is a peace-loving State and is able and willing to carry out the obligations contained in the Charter,

        “Noting that the Security Council has recommended to the General Assembly that it admit Israel to membership in the United Nations,

        “Noting furthermore the declaration by the State of Israel that it ‘unreservedly accepts the obligations of the United Nations Charter and undertakes to honour them from the day when it becomes a Member of the United Nations,’

        “Recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 [UNGA Resolution 181, the Partition Plan] 3/ and 11 December 1948 [UNGA Resolution 194] and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the Government of Israel before the ad hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions,

        “The General Assembly,
        “Acting in discharge of its functions under Article 4 of the Charter and rule 125 of its rules of procedure,
        “1. Decides that Israel is a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter and is able and willing to carry out those obligations;
        “2. Decides to admit Israel to membership in the United Nations.”

        Israel is the only UN member granted membership on the condition that it would obey specific resolutions.

        Commenting on Israel’s refusal to live up to its commitment to abide by Resolution 194 as a precondition for gaining admittance to the UN, Francis A. Boyle, Professor of International Law, declared: “Insofar as Israel has violated its conditions for admission to UN membership, it must accordingly be suspended on a de facto basis from any participation throughout the entire United Nations system.” (Palestine, Palestinians and International Law)

        ** An additional approximately 25,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and expelled just before and during Israel’s 1956 invasion of Egypt as were a further about 250,000 during the war Israel launched on 5 June 1967.

      • echinococcus on March 30, 2018, 1:43 pm

        And no, Israel makes no claim to Gaza.

        You mean it has its largest concentration camp, extermination camp, turkey shoot amusement park and arms testing area outside its borders? Hard to believe.

    • Misterioso on March 30, 2018, 11:23 am


      The Palestinians have repeatedly declared they will not cross the border.
      Nonetheless, in true Nazi like fascistic fashion, Israel’s soldiers are shooting at and killing them.

    • Misterioso on March 30, 2018, 11:31 am


      “And no, Israel makes no claim to Gaza.”

      However, the entity known as “Israel” is still illegally occupying the Gaza Strip:

      Human Rights Watch, 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

      “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015 correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

      To quote Dov Weisglass, then PM Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser:
      “‘The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda….’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

  5. Rooster on March 29, 2018, 10:55 pm

    I so fear a bloodbath, and have such admiration for the Gazans. Such bravery in the face of racist scum.

  6. Darcha on March 30, 2018, 3:50 am

    Meanwhile, Arutz Sheva is making sure everyone knows it’s okay to kill thousands at a go:

  7. lonely rico on March 30, 2018, 10:47 am

    The ravings of racist Paula R. Stern (such a pretty smile) at Arutz Sheva –

    The Palestinians are banking on what they consider our cowardice. They don’t think we have the guts to shoot them down in mass numbers and that our hesitation will enable them to attack us. They’ll come tomorrow in vast numbers, across fences and through tunnels. In the water and over the hills. And the only way to stop them, the only way to protect our children, our lives, our country is to change the rules of engagement today.
    Shoot to kill. Nothing less.

    We must be brave, we must murder the un-armed, caged Palestinians;
    shooting and crying,
    crying and shooting.
    The tribulations of being a Zionist.

    • Misterioso on March 30, 2018, 2:37 pm

      @lonely rico

      Paula R. Stern is another two-bit, immoral, murderous, racist, fascistic Zionist nut. She would have had a brilliant career serving Germany’s Third Reich.

  8. genesto on March 30, 2018, 5:02 pm

    This is going to get worse and worse with mounting casualties. But, it is necessary. The only other option is for Palestinians to slowly die, either from the poisonous water or, more generally, from the stranglehold Israel has on the most densely populated area in the world which makes life unbearable. The Palestinians need to be careful in their messaging, though, if they hope to mobilize the world community to support this effort. Simply demanding their right of return won’t work, and might even play into Israeli arguments, irrational as they are, that allowing all dispossessed Palestinians to return home would mean the end of the Jews in Israel, if not everywhere. While most of the world community recognizes that Palestinians live under horrendous conditions that need to be improved, many less are ready to let them all back into Israel to reclaim their stolen land.

    If the Palestinian leadership changes the stated goal of the March as the liberation the Palestinian people from their prison-like conditions, it will have a much better chance of success.

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