The Great March of Return: A Year in Numbers
On March 30th 2019, tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters engaged in a mass protest and gathered along the Israel-Gaza border to mark the one-year anniversary of the weekly weekend demonstrations. The Great March of Return protests started on March 30th last year calling for the Palestinians’ right of return to their lands, from which their families were violently expelled in 1948, and for the end of the 12-year Israeli blockade of Gaza. The protests were originally planned to last up to May 15th, 2018 coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Al-Nakba, but have continued on a weekly basis since then. The protests started in 2018 on the annual commemoration of Land Day, a day that has been observed by Palestinians since 1976 when Israeli forces killed six Palestinians who were protesting the expansion of Israeli settlements in Arraba, Sakhnin, Deir Hanna, Galilee, among others.
In the span of a year, the border between Gaza and Israel has been the site of mass protests and major bloodshed. Since last year, 266 Palestinians were killed (including 50 children), mainly from Israeli sniper fire. In contrast, one Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper. Approximately 7,000 Palestinians were injured, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
Four Palestinians were killed as a result of the mass protest on Saturday, March 30th, three of which were 17-year old minors. Of the teens was Tamer Abu el-Khair, who was shot in the chest and died at a hospital. The second teen, Adham Amara, died after being shot in the face. The third teen, Belal al-Najjar, was killed by an Israeli gunshot. The fourth Palestinian was identified as Mohamed Jihad Saad, a 20-year-old who was killed in an overnight demonstration before the main protest on Saturday. Over 300 protesters were wounded from Israeli use of live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 60 people were wounded by live Israeli fire, five of which are in critical condition and nine are in serious condition. According to Palestinian reports, the bigger protests occurred on the eastern border near Jabalia.
Despite that, the anniversary protest was said to be restrained and controlled. Ronen Manelis, an Israeli army spokesperson, stated that "the restraint Hamas exercised today was such that we hadn't seen over the past year. There were hundreds of Hamas personnel who wore orange vests and prevented demonstrators from reaching the [border] fence.” Manelis stated that Aviv Kochavi, Chief of Staff, conducted a situation assessment with senior Israeli commanders, preparing the army for any situation that might arise.
On March 29th, a day before the protest, senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri and Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhla met in Beirut. They issued a joint statement saying that "any aggression toward protesters of the March of Return today along the border fence will be met with an appropriate response and the military branches of both movements have coordinated on this matter." Despite these threats, the protest did not get out of hand.
Israel’s use of deadly force against Palestinian protesters has drawn criticism from the UN and rights organizations. Through a UN investigation, it has been revealed that the vast majority of protesters were unarmed and peaceful. The investigation also revealed that Israeli forces may be convicted of war crimes for using excessive force.
In the meantime, Hamas awaits a timeframe for the implementation of the Israeli pledges towards Gaza, which include ceasefire understandings with the Israeli occupation. In addition, new humanitarian projects would be set up and various measures would be taken to address the Israeli siege on Gaza. These measures are related to Gaza’s electricity crisis, expansion of fishing zone, job creation, freedom of movement, infrastructure projects, etc. A Hamas spokesperson stated that if Israeli forces refused to abide by the ceasefire understandings, Palestinians would continue their peaceful protests in Eastern Gaza.
Thanks for reading this week’s blog post. We cover the Great March of Return more in detail in our March 2019 Monthly Report which will be available on April 6th 2019. Click here to request a copy.