For the fourth week, on a peaceful and unilateral battlefield, thousands of angry young men went close to the border fence separating Gaza and Israel to protest, facing dozens of Israeli soldiers who lay positioned behind sandy hills. But neither side could see the other clearly due to towers of thick black smoke from blazing tires billowing over the isolated Mediterranean enclave for six hours of protests.
This Friday which is part of a planned six-week-long demonstration called the Great Return March, demanding the right of return for refugees, eight tents in “Malaka” area were moved to within 300 meters of the fence, just in range of tear gas canisters and live bullets. Moving closer to the green fields behind the border s more sense to the rally, march’s organizers believe.
Local bulldozers also raised protective sandy hills around the new set camp.
Moving those yards closer left four Palestinians killed and 152 others injured by Israeli soldiers firing live ammunition from across the border, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.
Breaking the barriers of fear, the protesters hurled tear gas canisters back at the soldiers, buried them or even dumped them in buckets filled with water.
In the past three weeks, 37 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by troops firing from across the border fence.
Ra’fat Jendiyeh said he was the “only loser” of this week’s protest. Ra’fat, a 41-year-old farmer, owns 25-dunums (about six acres) near the fence, planted with okra, wheat and eggplant. He says his fields have been turned into a “daytime club and open-air restaurant.” His family had 35 dunums on the other side of the Israeli border too.
“It is impossible to find someone walking between these fields before last March, except masked resistance fighters or farmers with faces well-known to the soldiers,” he told Mondoweiss.
“These masses are no longer afraid of anything,” he said. Thousands of casualties, dozens of dead and grisly scenes of wounds on television have not stopped them from joining the march. “So I cannot prevent dozens from running back and crushing the seedlings,” he said. “But it does not matter if they are relieved of their anger.”
In one protest camp, organizers placed four life-sized effigies of Israeli soldiers behind iron bars facing the fence. Hamas is believed to hold the remains of two soldiers from the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza.
Ismail Haniyeh, the chief of Hamas’s Political Bureau, said in a televised speech to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on Tuesday, that his movement is ready for a prisoner swap with Israel through third-party mediation.
In today’s protests, a large number of women were also seen. Nour Habib, 17, and her mother, Nihad, 35, and her sisters were urging each other to move close to the border “to see the green fields behind the soldiers”.
Women are less likely to be shot at the weekly rally, it is widely understood.
I asked Nihad Habib if her daughters and she are afraid to be in this precarious area. As she prepared Thai-style fried chicken for lunch, she replied, “I am originally from the Bayt Jirja village (15.5 km northeast of Gaza) and nothing frightens you as long as you… want to go back to your original land”.
Nour, who is preparing for high school exams next month, says she comes here weekly for a walk and to refresh her mind. “I do not think we’ll go this summer to the sewage polluted beach. Here I can breathe fresh oxygen.”
“We live in a male-dominated society,” she went on, and girls’ participation in the protests can make for a strange scene. But she said men were more accepting and encouraging the idea to be here, “especially since we came with my uncle, who did not like the idea at first, but he agreed and we got his car.”
Nour said she did not like the 300 meters “only” move of tents. “It should be moved at zero distance next Friday,” she said. Palestinians have no fear because they face a country that was built on their displacement. “They think the young will forget but we will not.”
Then Nour and her family fled due to a tear gas attack during the interview. So, being a female protester wasn’t a guarantee for protection after all.
The participation in the weekly rallies seems to have impressed even the children, some of whom feel lucky to have the demonstration to go to on Friday on their school weekend.
I met Basma Abu Hashish (9 years old) who was with her family eating lemon flavored ice.
“Nothing is scary here,” she said.
“We brought mineral water to rinse our eyes if we have been attacked by gas,” she said. “At least my father will tell us stories about what he did when he was our age and what my granddad was catching in the Jaffa’s sea.”