The ongoing series of protests that began on March 30 near the Israeli border have been met with murderous repression, with about 50 Palestinians killed and many more injured. In fact, more than 1100 Gazans were injured by Israeli forces on the May 4 protests alone, The Electronic Intifada said that day. No Israelis have been reported injured in what the media routinely calls “clashes”.
The Great March of Return is a six-week campaign in Gaza to demand the right of Palestinians to return to land they were evicted from by Israeli ethnic cleansing. The protest led into the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba (“the Catastrophe”), the Palestinian name for the mass expulsions that accompanied the foundation of Israel in 1948.
On May 4, labelled “Friday of the Palestinian Worker” by protest organisers, hundreds of protesters required medical treatment for the effects of tear gas. Ambulances and first aid stations at the five main encampments along the border were also targeted with tear gas, meaning that both medics and anyone who was already seeking relief from tear gas received a double dose.
Among the 50 fatalities so far are journalists, farmers, fishers, medics, a championship cyclist and children. This marks an escalation of Israeli aggression against the besieged territory. The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem noted that Israeli attacks killed 19 Gazans throughout the whole of last year.
The ongoing horror of the illegal use of live ammunition against civilians, as well as the deliberate targeting of readily identifiable individuals such as journalists and medics, is matched only by the silence of so much of the mainstream media.
Meanwhile, positive PR for Israel has come via the glitzy festival of the Eurovision Song Contest, which bizarrely allows Israel to take part. In the midst of the Israeli military’s carnage in Gaza, Israel’s contestant Netta Barzilai qualified for the Eurovision final on May 9.
Barzilai, who is a favourite to win the contest, performed as part of the Israeli Navy Band during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, which killed more than 1400 civilians.
The Eurovision Song Contest is not the only cultural event featuring Israel on the international stage. The 2018 Giro d’Italia — one of the big three European cycling races — held stages in Israel and illegally occupied Palestinian territory, thanks to significant Israeli funding.
Days before the May 4 start of the Giro, the career of a promising young Gazan was destroyed after he was shot by an Israeli sniper while taking part in a Great Return protest. Al-Daly had planned to compete at the Asian Games. The cyclist’s only crime was being Palestinian and participating in the march. Like other Palestinians injured by Israeli forces in Gaza, Al-Daly was refused an exit permit to get treatment outside Gaza.
On May 8, Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice gave a speech in parliament that marked al-Nakba and the Israeli crimes, as well as the inhumanity of the conditions of Palestinians today.
Rice began: “Tonight I’m wearing around my neck a pendant of Handala. Handala is a beloved Palestinian cartoon character, a refugee child, a creation of cartoonist Naji al-Ali.
“Naji al-Ali was 10 years old when Palestine was invaded by Israeli forces on 15 May 1948. He and his family were expelled from Palestine and ended up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. It was the beginning of the Nakba, the catastrophe.”
Describing what she saw on a trip to Palestine organised last year by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Rice said: “I wept with a widow whose husband had been killed only three months prior as the village of Umm al-Hiran was protesting about the demolition of houses in the village by Israeli government forces. Almost any building, home, school, childcare centre and even solar panels that have been built in Palestine since 1967 are subject to demolition.
“I met mothers holding vigil outside courtrooms where their teenage sons were being tried, convicted and jailed for the crime of posting on Facebook about the Israeli military forces that control their movements and their lives.
“And I walked the ghostly streets of Hebron, where Palestinians are no longer permitted to walk or work and are excluded by checkpoints and barbed wire, where Israeli settlers, illegal under international law, are slowly but surely taking over...
“A year on, 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi is serving eight months in an Israeli jail for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier, having just learnt that Israeli troops seriously wounded her 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes. A year on, peaceful protests on Gaza's border with Israel have been met by live fire by Israeli forces...
“Israel continues to control the borders, imports and exports, water supply, electricity supply, people's movements, the army and the courts. Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, are expanding on Palestinian land.
“Roads which Palestinians are banned from travelling on connect their settlements with each other and to Israel.
“And Palestinians in the West Bank — suffering, resilient, steadfast under this military occupation of the last 50 years — don't have a vote in Israel. They don't have democratic rights or any way to influence how their lives are controlled in this way...”
She concluded: “Australia is in a very powerful position with regard to Israel. We and the US are Israel’s very best friends in the world.
“It would be massively powerful if we recognised the state of Palestine, joining 137 other states in doing so; if we said to Israel that we will not sell or buy arms from them while they continue the illegal military occupation and the expanding settlements; if we called on them to stop using lethal force against unarmed protesters in Gaza; in short, if we let Israel know ... that their behaviour is unacceptable.”
As the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba approaches, it is likely that the Senator's speech will stand as the only official acknowledgement of it from Australia.
It is almost certain there will be no let up in the use of deadly force against Gazan protesters in the days ahead. But by timing the Great March to culminate with al-Nakba commemorations, Palestinians have shown they are determined not to disappear or stop resisting the ongoing catastrophe to which Israel is subjecting them.