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The Palestinians have started their Great March of Return

Thousands of Palestinians assemble along the Gaza-Israel border to reaffirm the ‘Right of Return’ on 30 March 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

As I write this, Palestinians in Gaza have begun what one of their leaders has called a major new phase towards the liberation of Palestine and the return of their refugees. A series of marches is taking place, each heading towards the illegal occupation fence which Israel maintains around the Gaza Strip; the intent is a full return to Palestine. This is no mere symbolism; the refugees fully intend to return to their country — their whole country — from which they were brutally evicted in 1948 for the crime of being the “wrong” ethnicity and religion.

So far a reported 15 people have been murdered by Israeli army snipers, with hundreds more injured. And it is only day one.

Palestinian refugees, and their children, and their children’s children, are marching home, back to the lands from which they were ethnically cleansed when the country that the mainly White world today recognises as “Israel” was created. However, the Palestinian people have never recognised the “right” of largely European settlers to kick them out of their historic homeland and form a racist state on the ruins of their towns and villages.

The 15th May 2018 will mark 70 years since the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) of 1948, when most Palestinians were removed by deadly force from their homes by Zionist militias. Unlike what happens after most other conflicts, though, the refugees have been denied their right of return, which is inalienable under international law.

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Yesterday in Gaza, those refugees sought to return to their homes; nothing more, nothing less. This new March of Return will be a sustained campaign which already looks like it could make a decisive strategic difference.

Israel’s propaganda and its mouthpieces overseas — such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews — are portraying these unarmed marchers as “puppets” or “pawns” of Hamas. This is a lie, and is intended to do nothing less than whitewash multiple acts of murder.

The irony of this lie is that the very opposite is true. The support that the Hamas political leadership in Gaza has afforded this popular protest march for basic human rights is, in fact, the result of popular pressure on the movement to act, not the other way around.

For years, small but regular and committed groups of Palestinian youths have been protesting at the boundary fence, standing well within the territory of Gaza. When they do, they are habitually gunned down and murdered by killers in Israeli army uniforms.

These murders attract no mainstream media headlines, and no grave denunciations by Western politicians. If the Palestinian people only had such politicians to rely on, they would be standing entirely alone.

That may well be about to change, as the organisers of the march have planned a series of events over the next few weeks. The new initiative has already succeeded in increasing international awareness of the Palestinians’ plight.

For years, western aid agencies have been predicting that Gaza will soon be “unliveable”. Last year, a UN report said that the deadly threshold had already been passed. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated because of the Israeli-led siege and brutal medieval blockade of Gaza Strip, aided and abetted by the Egyptian regime.

People in Gaza have simply had enough. They knew full well that there was a strong possibility that they would be murdered by Israel in cold blood, but joined the march despite this chilling reality.

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The campaign will put increasing pressure on Israel to reverse its decades-old policy of blocking Palestinian refugees from achieving their basic and very legitimate human rights: the end to Israel’s military occupation; full civil and legal equality; and the full right of return for every individual refugee. There is nothing to “negotiate” on any of these three points.

As disunited as the Palestinian body politic has been in the past, there is total national consensus on these issues among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, in 1948-occupied Palestine (present day Israel), and in the diaspora. Nothing less than the full right of return will do.

The main thing that we in Britain can do now to support the Palestinians is to put pressure on our politicians to reverse their unquestioning support for Israel’s occupation and injustice. That must include total BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – against Israel with immediate effect.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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