In a remarkably fresh approach to their resistance against Israel's seven decades of colonialism, Palestinians have mobilised en masse in what has been dubbed the Great Return March. Starting on Friday, 30 March, thousands upon thousands headed towards the homes and land from which they have been forcibly expelled since 1948. Victims of evictions and ethnic cleansing whose losses have never been acknowledged by Israel, despite their formal recognition by the UN, they have every right under international law to return to their land and reclaim what is theirs.
Although the month of March has seen the commemoration of Land Day every year since 1976, this year it has expanded in a very creative way. The popular sentiment shared amongst Palestinians in the diaspora as well as within the suffocating occupied territories is simple: "Returning to our stolen lands and homes is legal under international law and UN resolutions." The Great Return March is thus an affirmation of this inalienable right guaranteed by a substantial number of international conventions.
Reports from Gaza reveal that an aggressive and hostile military response to human beings demanding what is rightfully theirs is now underway. Leaks from Benjamin Netanyahu's war-room pointed to threats to kill any and all Palestinians who dare to approach the apartheid barriers — the so-called "fences" — which keep the indigenous population from their homes and land. By the end of Friday, at least 13 Palestinians are known to have been shot and killed by the Israelis, despite being unarmed and protesting peacefully; thousands more have been injured.
To the dismay of Israel, the Great Return March is not planned to be a one-day event. To add to Israel's PR nightmare, media coverage will probably revisit the issues at the heart of this popular demonstration via extensive analysis and historic footage of its systematic brutality.
However, expressing its displeasure through the mainstream media and throwing a tantrum — the usual Israeli reaction — will not assist the right-wing regime's hasbara (propaganda) campaigns. In fact, such a response will be entirely counterproductive, as the National Party in South African apartheid's heyday learnt to its cost.
Concealing the ugly reality of Zionism's imposition of a foreign entity — Israel — and the consequences of the Naqba (catastrophe) of its founding in 1948, which are visible across the Occupied Palestinian Territories — of 1967 and 1948 — and refugee camps dotted across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere is not possible, even with a compliant media at Israel's beck and call. Furthermore, it is would be morally repugnant to even try.
Moreover, it would be equally outrageous and utterly disgraceful for any media platform to ignore or downplay the enormous burden faced by Palestinians to free themselves from oppression and achieve a semblance of justice. The Great Return March is thus a challenge to the media to disassociate themselves from false Israeli narratives fed to them by well-resourced propaganda campaigns.
This requires a return to an understanding of the enormity of the losses suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of a racist colonial entity supported and facilitated by the British government a century ago. It means revisiting notorious historical details which certainly will be unflattering for those European powers who played central roles in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The Great Return March is a challenge to those in the media who've been cowed into submission by intimidating threats of economic sabotage and "anti-Semite" smears to jump off the fence into the fray. Robust introspection and fearless reports on the reasons why Palestinians have embarked on this momentous, peaceful campaign of defiance should be par for the course for journalists who value their own integrity as well as that of their profession.
In keeping with its irrational conduct, Israel has imposed a "closure" on the Palestinian areas for the so called "Passover holidays". In addition, the settler-colonial regime has enforced a "no go" zone on land adjacent to Gaza's border. The Chief of Staff of the occupation Israel Defence Forces has admitted that "more than 100 snipers" from elite Special Forces have been deployed with permission to "open fire"; the first murderous results of their handiwork have already been seen.
Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, known for challenging the country's violations of human rights without fear or favour, was justified to be concerned about threats by the regime to unleash lethal force on the demonstrators. "Completely ignoring the humanitarian disaster in Gaza and Israel's responsibility for it, they are couching the planned protest in terms of a security risk, framing the demonstrators as terrorists and referring to Gaza as a 'combat zone'."
The death toll rose, as B'Tselem and other humanitarian organisations warned it would, and Israel's war-mongering revealed its blatant disregard for the sanctity of Palestinian life and, indeed, the state's obligations under international law.
The Great Return March has the support of all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamic Jihad. The protest is expected to continue daily until 15 May and the 70th anniversary of the Naqba. Its demands will resonate with justice-seeking people all around the globe: Palestinians must be allowed to exercise their legitimate right of return to their pre-1948 homes and land.
Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg, South Africa.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.