Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along eastern border of Gaza Strip on Friday part of Great March of Return, which turned violent with Israeli occupation forces killing 17 protesters.
As many as 100,000 took part in the peaceful march, which is planned to last for six days. They were protesting against Israel’s longstanding blockade of the territory and in support of their right to return to their homes.
The Palestinians are pressing demands to return to lands that was usurped by the Zionist gangs, supported by the UK, the US and many other Western powers and Arab states, 70 years ago.
The majority of Gaza’s two million residents are either refugees, who were forced out of their homes in 1948, or descendants of those refugees.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which was imposed to topple Hamas after achieving a landslide victory in free general elections, is more than decade old and restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the Palestinian territory.
The protest came at a particularly charged time as Palestinians observed Land Day. The day commemorates the events of March 30, 1976, when Israeli occupation forces shot and killed Palestinians during protests over the Israeli expropriation of Arab-owned land.
How Israel responded?
Palestinian men, women and children arrived in tent encampments that popped up in recent days about 700 metres from the border.
Israeli occupation claimed that Hamas stands behind the even. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “The Hamas leadership is risking your lives. I advise you to get on with your normal everyday lives and not to participate in the provocation.”
The Israeli occupation had almost doubled its forces along the border, deploying snipers, special units and drones, and warning that it would act to prevent any breach of the border fence.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, had warned that any shoot-to-kill policy against unarmed demonstrators would be illegal unless soldiers’ lives were threatened.
Most of the protesters in the tent encampments remained well away from the border fence; however, the Israeli occupation forces, stationed behind sand barricades, started to shot at the Palestinian youths raising Palestine flags and waving with them.
Several Palestinians were shot dead and more than 1,600 were shot and wounded in different areas across their bodies.
By the end of the day, the Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza said that the Israeli occupation killed 17 Palestinian civilians and wounded 1,635 others, including 27 suffered moderate wounds and nine suffered serious injuries.
‘We will achieve actual return’
One of the organisers of the Great March or Return and its Spokesman in Gaza Ahmed abu-Rtima said: “Our will in achieving the actual return to our lands is more powerful than jet fighters and a gun.
“This march is rightful and will not be used and exploited for political agendas.”
The peak of the Gaza protest was supposed to take place on May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe, the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 after forcing out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their homes and destroying about 600 Palestinian villages and cities.
This year, May 15 is expected to be particularly sensitive. It comes a day after the expected move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step that has provoked international criticism and Palestinian outrage.
Organisers of the border protest had hoped to create an almost festival-like atmosphere to attract families, setting up portable washrooms and providing free food, water and Wi-Fi.
Israel has carried out three major offensives on Gaza over the past decade, attempting to topple the freely-elected Hamas Movement. It killed more than 3,800 Palestinians, wounded more than 30,000 others and destroyed up to 90 per cent of Gaza’s civil infrastructure.