It was a surprising image: tens of thousands of peaceful and unarmed Palestinian civilians gathered just a few hundred metres from the eastern borders of the Gaza Strip where, according to advance Israeli media reports-cum-warnings, 100 army snipers were deployed in preparation for a crackdown on the popular protest.
The International Coordinating Committee for the Great Return March called on all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, 1948-occupied Palestine and the diaspora to take part in the event, which marked the 42nd anniversary of Palestine Land Day.
The most remarkable gathering took place in Gaza, where the organisers erected tents for a protest expected to last for six weeks, reaching its peak on 15 May, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (Catastrophe; the creation of the state of Israel).
Seventy years ago, Zionist militias and terrorist groups forced around 700,000 Palestinians out of their homes in more than 550 villages, towns and cities in Palestine. The state of Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, and the systematic destruction of their property. Most of those towns and villages no longer exist; Israel has wiped them off the map in an orgy of destruction.
According to the organisers, the march was also planned to demonstrate support for occupied Jerusalem following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital. An end to the 11-year Israeli-led siege on Gaza was also called for.
MEMO interviewed a number of the participants in the Great March of Return in Gaza, where 17 protesters were killed and about 1,600 others were wounded on Friday, 30 March, by the Israeli snipers.
Du’aa Habib, 27, nanny
I am not a refugee. I am originally from the Gaza Strip, but I came here to show support for the right of Palestine refugees to return to their homes.
The Palestinians have many issues to defend beside the right to return. They have their capital, which is Jerusalem. I came here to defend the holy city of Jerusalem, which is the eternal capital of Palestine.
I am sending a message to US President Donald Trump, who recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; his plan will not succeed as long as there are Palestinians living here.
It is true that we do not have weapons, but we have persistence, as well as the support of God. I see that we are going to liberate Jerusalem very soon.
Saber Al-Ashqar, 29, from Breer
We came here to fight against Trump’s decision against Jerusalem. We want to bring down Trump’s decision. Jerusalem is Palestine’s capital.
I was targeted by an Israeli drone during the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2009. The occupation blew-off my legs in order that I might not go back home, but I tell Israel and the Americans behind it that I am going home, if not today, then tomorrow.
I am a double-amputee but I will go back to my grandfather’s house sooner or later. I will go back and have my house built near the tomb of my grandfather who was killed while defending our village, which is only a couple of miles from Gaza.
Ibrahim Abu Sha’ar, 64, from Beer Sheva
Taking part in the Great March of Return is a national and religious duty. Everyone must do his best to regain Palestine, which was stolen by the Israeli occupation.
Liberating Jerusalem is on top of my priorities and this must be the top priority for all the Palestinians and their supporters all over the world.
Trump is a villain; how could he give Jerusalem to the Israeli occupation? It is not his to give away; it is ours and we will liberate the city and maintain it for Palestine forever.
Najeh Nassar, 55, from Ashdod
I came here to mark Palestine Land Day, which reminds us about our occupied land. Our fathers have passed away and left the land, but we inherited the right to return to our land.
We want to go home in spite of this fence you see before you. Today, there is a fence, but one day we will destroy this fence and head directly to our land.
Rami Abu Dalal, 23, from Al-Naqab
I came here to support the right to return to our lands occupied by the Israeli occupation. I will remain in the tents here until we achieve our goals in spite of my wounds.
I am here also in support of Jerusalem. I was wounded three weeks ago while protesting for Jerusalem here. I tell the Israeli occupation that we do not fear your arms, your bullets, your live ammunition, your rubber bullets and your explosive bullets. We will remain here until we go back home and liberate Jerusalem.
Rida Abu Zuhair, 24, from Yafa
I came here as part of my efforts to go back to my parents’ home. I know that we have land on the other side of this fence and behind the sand barricades, where the Israeli snipers are placed. I will come here every day until we liberate our land.
We have nothing in our hands, but we are equipped with our rights and our persistence. The older generation may be gone, but the new generation has inherited the rights and persistence.
I am ready to sacrifice my soul for the sake of Palestine. Both my parents have died, but their souls travelled and lived there, where they were born. Hence, I will not feel happy unless I go there with my body or with my soul.