For the third consecutive Friday, Deema Abu Sharekh preferred to spend her school weekend participating in the weekly march east of Gaza city instead of entertaining herself with friends and neighbors in the Shejaiya neighborhood, which suffered dozens of deaths and widespread destruction during the 50-day conflict between Israel and Gaza in 2014.
The 7-year-old, blonde and rosy-cheeked due to the sun, arrived at the rally with her dad at noon and went to ‘Malaka’; one of four other protest locations along the Gaza-Israeli border, which is set to end in mid-May on the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, in which nearly 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their original villages by Israeli forces in 1948 war.
“I came today for the third time, to tell the Israeli soldiers that if my grandfather was unable to return to Al-Majdal, [where the Israeli city of Ashkelon now stands] then my father will do it, and if my father fails, I will return one day over there,” Deema told me. “I do not know anything about Al-Majdal, but my grandfather and dad say it is our original town and I am not afraid of these gas bombs or bullets.
“My mother used to tell me every day that she prepares me for the school: ‘Be strong, darling, do not let anyone take your sandwich.’ So today I will not let the Israelis stop me from return,” she said while holding a poster reading: “I am a child of Al-Majdal“.
The rallies are protesting against the ongoing siege, but are also asserting what they say is a “right of return” of refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
The third of the planned six weeks of marches was scheduled today on the theme of burning the Israeli flag widely and raising the Palestinian flag on the border fence.
Gaza’s Health Ministry reported a 28-year-old Palestinian man was killed by Israeli fire and 223 were injured. The death toll rose to 33 among protesters in two weeks, with more than 1,600 wounded by Israeli fire since March 30, according to the Ministry.
Friday morning, angry young men were flocking near the fence, while groups of men succeed in destroying portions of the border fence, pulling it back by long steel cables. Friends near the fence alleged they could sell the material after recycling.
Meanwhile, youths arrived shouting with anger as they carried on their shoulders a coffin wrapped in an Israeli flag bearing the words: “To the demise of Israel”. The coffin featured photos of two Israeli soldiers whose remains are being held by Hamas– Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul– and two captured Israeli civilians Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu.
Last week Palestinian men collected thousands of old tires in the lead up to burning them last Friday at the peaceful protest along the eastern border of Gaza.
The Israeli army has argued that Gaza militant movements seek to turn the border area into a clash zone, and said it has a right to defend its sovereign border.
At today’s rally, protesters created a new way of disturbing the Israeli soldiers perched on the sandy hills beyond the barrier: protesters set kites on fire and released them over the fence into Israeli agricultural fields.
Moving to the southern city of Rafah, 35 kilometer south of Gaza, some demonstrators set alight posters of US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who they believe is cooperating with Israel.
The rallies kicked off in March 30 and have created a massive challenge to the Israeli government, which has ignored worldwide criticism of its use of lethal fire against unarmed demonstrators, saying its rules of engagement are necessary and unchangeable.
“No life in Gaza”
A few meters away from the three burned posters, Lubna Abu Jazar, 46, participated in the rally with her 9-year old daughter.
“I am from the village of Al-Sawafir al-Sharqiyya [located 32 km northeast of Gaza on lands now in Israel], and I believe in my heart that returning to that village must be done even after a decade from now,” Lubna, a math school instructor, told Mondoweiss.
“I am personally not feel afraid since I can’t find a life for me or my eight family members in Gaza,” she said.
Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the EU have called for an independent investigation.