Palestine: March of Return protests in Gaza defy deadly Israeli bullets

Protesters in the Great March of Return near the Gaza-Israel border on April 20.

The Great March of Return, a six-week campaign of protests in Gaza for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, commemorated Prisoners’ Day on April 20.

The five main sites of the march in Gaza are becoming semi-permanent encampments as thousands of Gazans provide support for thousands of others who continue to approach the fortified border with Israel.

The campaign will continue until the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba (the Catastrophe) on May 15, which marks the founding of Israel on the back of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Gazans are defying tear gas and live ammunition fire to get closer to the heavily fortified border each Friday. Israel complains about “infiltrators” breaching barriers, but the reality is that the infrastructure of Israel’s heavily militarised border extends several hundred metres inside Gaza itself.

When conflict occurs, Israel can and does unilaterally declare more no-go zones that extend even further into Gaza. This means any Palestinian caught in these newly declared no-go zones on their own land becomes an “infiltrator” and therefore a “legitimate” target for the Israeli Defence Force.

The accusations of “terrorist infiltration” involve people protesting for the right to return to land stolen from them. Being able to go home — the right of return — is guaranteed under international law and is explicitly stated in Article 11 of United Nations Resolution 194, but this right is denied to Palestinians by the Israeli occupation.

In response to these protests, Israel is firing on so-called “infiltrators” with live ammunition. The result is casualty rates not seen since Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza.

By April 24, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had counted 39 deaths and nearly 3000 injuries since the Great March began on March 20. Half of those injuries were from live ammunition.

Assessments of the injuries inflicted on protesters paint a disturbing picture.

Complex leg wounds constitute the single biggest category of injuries and will, given the parlous state of health care in Gaza, result in life-long disabilities for many Gazans.

Palestinian women have been at the forefront of the Great March campaign and have mobilised around protests that take place each Tuesday. Women’s committees in each of the five encampments organise cultural and educational workshops for Great March participants.

What angers Israeli army spokespeople most is the women’s presence in groups that march to the border.

One IDF spokesperson demanded that Palestinian women stay home, because it suited their womanly natures to focus on home and family and neither speak out about the Great March, participate in it or otherwise provide support. Major Avichay Adraee was even considerate enough to tweet and post on Facebook about it.

If Israeli bullets have failed to keep Gazans away from the protests, it is unclear how such lectures on the supposed role of women will have any effect.

What is clear is that, after 70 years of occupation, Palestinians are neither going away nor giving up their homeland.

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