Massive crowds made their way on Friday to different locations along the eastern parts of the Gaza Strip bordering Israel to mark the 42nd anniversary of Palestine’s Land Day.
The idea for the historic protest came a few months ago from Ahmad Abu Ertima, a member of civil society who was supported by academics in Gaza. The idea gained momentum and was supported by all Palestinian political factions, which understood that they needed new, creative initiatives in the mould of Gandhi and Mandela to attract the attention and support of the international community.
The march’s main goal of holding a peaceful six-week long protest was made clear in advance, in order to pull the rug from under Israeli excuses to attack the participants and provoke the protestors. From the early hours on Friday, an estimated 30,000 Palestinians from all walks of life poured out of their homes and refugee camps to take part in the march, the largest peaceful protest ever to take place near the so-called Buffer Zone on the border with the occupying state.
However, this non-violent protest was met with severe warnings and threats by Israeli army officers and politicians. They denounced it as a Hamas-organised riot and threatened to “protect” Israel by shooting anyone who dared to approach the 300-metre zone or try to cross the border. Dozens of Israeli snipers were deployed with orders to shoot to kill. They were backed-up by drones and tanks, and started firing live ammunition into the crowd, as if rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas are not effective any more.
Disproportionate and deadly force was used. Why did those young men not obey the organisers and stay next to the tents, choosing instead to risk their lives? Frustration, anger and lack of hope is the answer.
Nevertheless, despite the asymmetric nature of the conflict, the Palestinians of Gaza won the online battle, with videos on social media showing that innocent people posing no danger to anyone were shot in cold blood by the Israelis. One was gunned down while praying and another was shot dead while walking away from the scene. Social media gives the Palestinians a voice, and Israel cannot twist the facts any more.
Surprisingly, though, some Western media outlets described what happened last Friday as “clashes”, “confrontations” and a “peaceful protest turned violent and bloody” as if the unarmed Palestinian protestors and heavily-armed Israeli soldiers were equal. Those soldiers were given a green light to kill unarmed people; there was no “confrontation” or “clash”. Friday was the bloodiest since Israel’s 2014 military offensive against civilians in Gaza.
While the UN called for an independent inquiry into the violence, others endorsed Israel’s right to protect its borders, as if a peaceful march within an “open air prison” represented a genuine threat to a nuclear-armed state.
The result on Friday was shocking, even by Israel’s standards. It is clear that the occupied Palestinian territories, especially Gaza, are a testing ground for the Israeli arms industry. Despite this, the Palestinians in the territory are determined to continue their 6-week protest until Nakba Day on 15 May, the 70th anniversary of the Catastrophe of the creation of Israel on Palestinian land and the start of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population.
Peace marches are non-violent resistance to the occupation and are held across the West Bank in protest at Israel’s illegal land grabs. The occupation authorities, though, won’t even allow the Palestinians to protest in this way. Soldiers are used to break up the peaceful protests there as well.
Palestinian refugees are the indigenous people of the Holy Land; they were displaced by Israel and are scattered all over the world, not least in miserable camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They have a legitimate right to return to their land. The old people may die, but the young take their place and never forget that right.
The Palestinians are there to stay; they are not going to vanish like the Native Americans despite the massacres, attempts to silence their voices and the distortion of their narrative. They are tired of Israel’s military occupation and colonisation supported by the US but have not waved a white flag. The Palestinian Gandhis may have been crushed by Israel’s disproportionate force on “Bloody Friday”, but they are still determined to return to their land as free people in an independent state.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.