Israel’s massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza on March 30, in which 18 people died and almost 1500 were injured, has spread outrage across the world.
Anger has been further fuelled by Israeli statements after the attack, in which footage showed unarmed protesters being shot in the back as they fled. Rejecting international calls for an inquiry, Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman instead said Israeli soldiers “deserve a medal”.
The killings came as 30,000 Gaza residents gathered near the wall marking Gaza’s border with Israel. Named the Great Return March, the demonstration marked “Land Day”, the anniversary of the 1976 killing of six Palestinians protesting the Israeli confiscation of Arab land.
The protests were the start of a planned six-week-long non-violent protest against the blockade of Gaza and to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The six-week campaign will culminate on al Nakba (Catastrophe Day), the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel on the back of mass expulsions of Palestinians.
In response to the latest killings, Palestinians are calling for protests. The steering committee of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee released a statement on April 2 that evoked the global campaign for sanctions against Israeli apartheid. It called for an escalation of boycotts targeting the Israeli military and any company that financially profits from Israeli crimes.
Huwaida Arraf is a US-Palestinian activist who co-founded the International Solidarity Movement and is a former chair of the Save Gaza movement. Arraf was a featured speaker at the annual Marxism conference in Melbourne over Easter.
On April 3, Jiselle Hanna and Lourdes Garcia-Larque spoke with Arraf on the Accent of Women show on Melbourne’s 3CR community radio. Below is an abridged transcript, slightly edited for clarity.
Over the past few days, Palestinians in Gaza took action on the border of Gaza and Israel and then the Israeli Defence Force opened fire. What happened?
Gaza is still dealing with the funerals of the 17 people [an 18th protester has since died] who were shot dead protesting, unarmed, wanting the world to hear that they have been dispossessed for 70 years.
About 70% of Gaza’s population is made up of refugees driven out of their homes when Israel took their lands and created a state from the destruction of their towns and villages. Now Israel has trapped them in Gaza.
The United Nations says Gaza is “unliveable”. The people do not have clean water and they only get four-to-six hours of electricity per day, meaning that they cannot run certain things that we take for granted including emergency services and hospitals.
Nearly half of Gaza’s medical centres and hospitals have closed. What do you do when Israel will not let you import certain equipment and medicines, and then cut your electricity off?
Even [when they are not protesting], when people get close to the border but still on Gaza’s land (because there is a lot of farm land in the border area), Israel opens fire on them. If they try to fish, the Israeli navy shoots at them.
Israel controls everything that goes in and out, and it doesn’t allow people to leave. It really has them trapped in this small piece of land, only 365 square kilometres. So when they tried to raise their voices — as I hope the world saw — Israel put its snipers on hilltops and started shooting at them like fish in a barrel. It was outrageous and criminal.
The mainstream media is reporting this as a series of “clashes”. A Palestinian academic remarked that the only thing “clashing” is Israeli bullets with Palestinian bodies.
These were not clashes. This is a well-armed, well-funded and powerful military opening fire on unarmed people, refugees, who are deprived of everything, including the right to live a dignified life.
Now the hospitals in Gaza are having a difficult time tending to all the injuries because of the restrictions. It is very bad.
The six-week protest plan points to the fact that Palestinians are organising despite the hardship, the pressures and Israel’s clampdown. What does this say about the organisation and the level of resistance among Palestinians in Gaza?
It is hard, even for me, to describe the spirit that people have. I was born and raised in the US, so I’ve had certain rights, freedom of movement and avenues by which to realise those rights.
But the people of Gaza, and really the whole of Palestine, have been living under a brutal settler occupation that is part of a colonial project. Anybody under the age of 70 knows nothing but this dispossession and oppression.
There is a systematic effort to make people’s lives unliveable. It’s not too much to say that this is a slow genocide.
For the most part, the people of Gaza see that the world has not cared, no matter what they have done, no matter the reports that come from the UN and human rights groups. No one has done anything to hold Israel accountable.
There is this sense that you are up against this power that is trying to wipe you out and nobody cares. To still have the energy, spirit and will to organise in the hope that maybe someone will hear you, is really incredible.
The idea for the six-week protest started as a youth initiative from various Palestinian organisations. They took it to the political parties and, from what I hear, they got on board.
The idea is that they erect tents along the border, but not too close. Israel said the Palestinians were close to the border, but that’s not what happened. They set up the tents about 500-700 metres away because they know Israel fires at people getting any closer, even though it is Gaza’s land.
They set up in five different areas. The idea was to start on Land Day (March 30), which commemorates when, 42 years ago, Israel announced a plan to confiscate more land and there was a big protest. Israel killed six Palestinians, citizens of Israel, and injured and arrested many more. Every year since 1976, the day has been significant.
The idea was to organise cultural activities and stay with the tents for six weeks until May 15 — al Nakba, the day Israel wiped out 500 Palestinian villages and exiled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, starting our refugee problem and our dispossession. The activities were non-violent, designed so everyone could participate.
It was estimated that more than 30,000 people were headed towards these tents when the army opened fire. Despite this, people are not deterred. The tents are still there.
For now, people are tending to the funerals and those who have been injured. But the idea is that even more people will mobilise for May 15 to march right back.