Gaza paying tragic price for Great Return marches

Gaza paying tragic price for Great Return marches
As Gaza's Great return marches continue, Palestinians despair over casualty numbers, with some warning against encouraging further protests.
4 min read
21 Apr, 2019
More than 250 protesters have been killed since the Great Return marches began
Friday saw the 55th "March of Return and Breaking the Siege" in Gaza, with The Palestinian Centre of Human Rights reporting 100 Palestinian civilians, including 23 children, injured by Israeli forces.  

"During this week, Israeli forces have escalated their attacks against the medical personnel in the field, wounding four members of them and targeting an ambulance belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in eastern Khan Younis with a teargas canister directly while [it was] in the field and evacuating those wounded," PCHR said.

The return marches, with Palestinians from Gaza protesting along the border fence against the blockade, have continued for more than a year. More than 250 Palestinians have been killed in the protest, and countless thousands have been injured, with reports that Israeli forces target protesters in order to maim and injure rather than kill.  

While Palestinians continue to protest, some young Gazans have declined to actively participate in the marches, questioning the logic of the march, and accusing Hamas of not doing enough to protect the young Palestinians who go to protest on the border.  

Hamas affiliates began last month to police the Gaza frontier, dressed in orange vests, stopping Palestinians from getting too close to the Israel border fence. Activists in Gaza said it was a measure they had been demanding from Hamas, and criticised the movement for not doing enough to protect protesters as the marches gained momentum.  
People, especially youths, go there because they're hopeless and fed up with Gaza life

"At the beginning it started independently… youth started it in solidarity with the West Bank," said Jenin, a researcher from Gaza conducting interviews with people partaking in the marches.

"But Hamas used it [the marches] - they stop it and allow it according to political reasons and benefits," she said.

"The protesters are poor and not educated and they go there out of boredom, most of them… of course there are some guys who believe in the idea of these marches. But no human should accept these marches… it's totally against humanity in my opinion. Look how many kids and youth were killed and still. And what's in return? Nothing, totally nothing.

"People, especially youths, go there because they're hopeless and fed up with Gaza life."

The marches recently coincided with attempted protests against Hamas which were swiftly quashed. Thus some young Palestinians in Gaza continue to feel trapped between the seige and occupation on one side, and Hamas, who take legitimacy through their narrative of resisting Israel, on the other.

Osama Ali, a long-term activist who opposes the Hamas administration in Gaza, agreed with Jenin, saying Hamas had initially opposed the protests before exploiting them for political reasons:

"The protests were organised by the very same independent disgruntled youth who chose to clash with tanks rather than deal with day to day life under Hamas rule and Israel blockade," he said.

"Hamas security clashed with the marchers and interrogated others; it was not until the day of the US embassy inauguration that Hamas asked its members to take part in the marches - and it was the bloodiest of Fridays."

Others take a more circumspect view, sceptical of the ability of Hamas to control the protests and the idea they were "sending" people to demonstrate. 

It's not that they [protesters] don't want to live. It's that they are not living

"There are hundreds of thousands of people - they are definitely not all affiliated with the resistance," journalist Nizar said, explaining it was chiefly the miserable conditions in the Gaza Strip which are driving protesters to the marches.

"There is a 28 percent employment rate, the economy is declining, 52 percent of graduates are unemployed, many are laid off. There are many different types of people who attend these marches… it's mostly young men and women - its difficult to control." Many protesters come from the refugee camps along the border, he added.   

"I'm not saying its productive - hope is one thing, reality is another... They can see the misery in their parents… a mother loses her children because they have nothing else to do," he said.  

However, he hoped the protests would draw the international community's attention to the ever-deteriorating living conditions in the Gaza Strip, and increase global pressure for the blockade to be eased.

"The world needs to pay attention," he said. "It's not that they [protesters] don't want to live. It's that they are not living."   

Mumen, a teacher and translator agreed, saying he doesn't hold Hamas responsible for the marches, but doesn't think they should be encouraged due to the danger faced.  

"Hamas should not urge people to go. If they want to go by their own will, they should be far away from the fence," he said.

"Many just go there because they have nothing to lose. Some even prefer death rather than watching sons and daughters starve."

Follow Imogen Lambert on Twitter: @InnogenLamb