Israeli forces have killed seven unarmed Palestinians in Gaza, including a 16 year old, as thousands march for freedom and to return to their homes.
The “Great March of Return” has been organized by civil society organizations and all political factions in the besieged enclave.
Israel has perpetrated an 11-year blockade against Gaza’s 2 million men, women, causing malnutrition. Many are refugees and their descendants from the 1948 war of ethnic cleansing by which Israel was created and stole their homes and land.
Al Jazeera (Article has been updated)
At least seven Palestinians have been killed and hundreds of others wounded during clashes with Israeli forces as thousands marched near Gaza’s border with Israel in a major demonstration marking the 42nd anniversary of Land Day.
[The latest reports say Israeli forces have injured 1,100 unarmed marchers.]
Mohammed Najjar, 25, was shot in the stomach in a clash east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, while Mahmoud Muammar, 38, and Mohammed Abu Omar, 22, were both shot dead in Rafah, the Palestinian health ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The other three victims were identified as Ahmed Oudeh, 19, Jihad Freneh, 33, and Mahmoud Saadi Rahmi, 33.
Earlier on Friday, Omar Waheed Abu Samour, a farmer from Gaza, was also killed by Israeli artillery fire while standing on his land near Khan Younis, just hours ahead of the demonstrations.
There has been no immediate confirmation from the Israeli army of the strike that killed Samour.
More than 550 Palestinians were also injured after Israeli forces fired live ammunition at the protesters and used tear gas to push them back from a heavily fortified fence, according to the Red Crescent.
Adalah, a legal centre for Palestinian rights in Israel, condemned the Israeli forces’ use of force, calling it a violation of international law.
“Live gunfire on unarmed civilians constitutes a brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” the group said in a statement.
It also said that it would launch an investigation to “demand those those found responsible for the killings be brought to justice”.
Friday’s demonstration commemorates Land Day, which marks the day – March 30, 1976 – when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate massive tracts of Palestinian land.
Protesters in Gaza gathered in five different spots along the border, originally positioned about 700 metres away from the fence.
According to Israeli media, Israel’s army deployed more than 100 snipers on the other side of the border with permission to fire.
The march was called for by all political factions and several Palestinian civil society organisations in the besieged enclave.
Protesters said the main message of the march was to call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Some 70 percent of Gaza’s two million population are descendants of Palestinians who were driven from their homes in the territories taken over by Israel during the 1948 war, known to Arabs as the Nakba.
Speaking to the protesters, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said: “The Palestinian people have proved time after time that they can take the initiative and do great things. This march is the beginning of the return to all of Palestine.”
Friday’s protest also kicked off six weeks of a sit-in demonstration along the border leading up to the commemoration of the Nakba on May 15.
It is expected that the United States will be transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem around the same time, following President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.
Reuters reports: “The Israeli military has deployed more than 100 sharpshooters on the Gaza border ahead of a planned mass Palestinian demonstration, Israel’s top general said in an interview published on Wednesday.”
Organizers of the protest say they expect thousands in Gaza, including entire families, to answer their call for a peaceful protest. Demonstrators are to gather in tent cities in five locations along the border for a right of return of Palestinian refugees to what is now called Israel.
The Times of Israel reports that in addition to the snipers, “Israeli police officers will be stationed a bit farther back, in order to keep back any Palestinians who breach the first line of defense.” Israel is also expected to deploy drones against the protesters.
Israels Ynet News reports: “Thousands of soldiers from the Golani Brigade, the Armored Corps, the Nahal Brigade and the Givati Brigade, as well as troops from the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, Air Force video units and Special Forces will be deployed along the Gaza frontier.”
Israel has imposed a military enforced “no go” zone for Palestinians on their own land in Gaza next to Israel’s border fence, and has shot numerous farmers and nonviolent demonstrators who have entered it.
On Wednesday the Israeli military bulldozers invaded the “no go” zone to bulldoze structures, and has erected additional barbed wire fencing on the Gaza side of the Israeli barrier.
Ynet reports that soldiers have built fortifications in the form of massive mounds of earth, behind which Israeli snipers will be stationed on Friday. “IDF engineering forces also set up barbed-wire fences to make it harder on Palestinians who may attempt to cross the border fence.”
The demonstration will start on “Land Day”, which commemorates six Palestinian citizens of Israel killed by Israeli forces in 1976 while they participated in demonstrations against Israeli confiscation of their land in the Galilee. Israeli forces also wounded 100 people and arrested hundreds more in the largely Christian area.
Some reports suggest that 100,000 Gazans may gather tomorrow. Organizers say that the activities would be “popular and non-violent,’ and without weapons or confrontations.
AFP reports that the Gaza Health Ministry said Israeli soldiers shot five Palestinians Thursday evening after protestors approached the border in several places.
Motivating the demonstrators are numerous factors: A desire to return to homes confiscated by Israel in its 1948 ethnic cleansing – many of those forced out fled to Gaza; Israel’s refusal to abide by international law and allow these refugees and their descendanats to return to their homes; Israel’s continued confiscation of Palestinian land in the years since; its periodic invasions of Gaza in which numerous civilians and children have been killed; and Israel’s over decade long blockade of Gaza that has effectively imprisoned its almost two million men, women, and children, causing increased poverty, suffering, and malnutrition.
Israeli Cabinet: Shoot to kill
According to IMEMC, the Israeli ministerial cabinet held a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the expected protests. “The Cabinet decided to significantly increase military deployments, in addition to using live fire and shoot to kill orders ‘if the Palestinians breach (or approach) the security fence.’” Israeli forces have frequently killed and injured people taking part in unarmed protests.
According to international law, all refugees have the right to return to their homes. Israel, however, has refused to adhere to the law and has confiscated their land for Jewish-only habitation, while the refugees and their descendants often live in poverty in densely populated refugee camps in Gaza and throughout the region.
[For background on “The Great March” go here]
Palestine Chronicle reports: “Sit-ins will start in the besieged Gaza Strip and spread to the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and within Israel itself. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from refugee camps across Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are also expected to participate in the mass action.”
IMEMC reports that “a member of the Coordination Committee of the ‘Great Return March,’ said the protests would take off from five areas in the Gaza Strip, starting Friday at ten in the morning from the tents that were installed in Rafah, Khan Younis, Central District, Northern District and near Beit Hanoun (Erez) Terminal.
“He added that protests would be unarmed, nonviolent, and that the Palestinians are demanding the internationally guaranteed Right of Return of all refugees, as stated in Article 4 of UN Resolution #194.
“Shreiteh stated that the United Nations has affirmed this right 130 times, and that the protesters will gradually and nonviolently march towards the border fence.
“He said that the Palestinians are not seeking confrontation, and will be nonviolent, parallel with many processions will also be held across the West Bank, and various countries, especially in Lebanon.
“’There are 1.300.000 refugees living in very difficult conditions, and extreme poverty in the Gaza Strip alone,’ Shreiteh stated, ‘We want our rights; we want to return, we want the implementation of International Law.’”
Israeli forces have invaded Gaza numerous times in recent years. Following a 2009 assault there was a controversy over T-shirts worn by some Israeli soldiers celebrating their killing of women and children:
Statement by Israel’s B’Tselem
Ahead of the Palestinian demonstrations planned to start tomorrow (Friday) in Gaza, Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to respond with lethal force. 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”. Fragments of information reported by the media indicate that: soldiers will be ordered to shoot anyone coming within 300 meters of the fence; snipers will fire at anyone touching it; live fire will be used also in circumstances which are non-life-threatening. In other words: shoot-to-kill unarmed Palestinians taking part in these demonstrations.
Israeli forces have already been lethally shooting Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza for some time. In December 2017 alone – the most lethal month in the last year – Israeli forces shot and killed eight unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza. [more information here] Expanding this unlawful use of live fire will undoubtedly raise the death toll. Yet this predictable outcome appears not to have affected Israeli decision-making regarding the response to demonstrations in Gaza, both in general and specifically in formulating the open-fire orders.
Further, Israel’s presumption that it can dictate the actions of Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip is absurd. The decision where and whether and how to demonstrate in Gaza is not Israel’s to make – not with regard to tomorrow’s demonstrations nor in general with regard to daily life.
Official Israeli statements have made no reference to the actual reason for the protest – the disastrous reality in Gaza – or to the right to free protest. Israel has the power to immediately change life in Gaza for the better, but has chosen not to do so. It has made Gaza a huge prison, yet forbids the prisoners even to protest against this, on pain of death.
More photos of protest camp
Conditions in Gaza caused by Israeli siege
- 97 percent of Gaza water is unfit for human consumption.
- 45 percent of medicines are absent from the warehouses of the Gaza Ministry of Health, along with 28 percent of needed medical equipment.
- 50 percent of Palestinian children need psychological counseling.
- Only 54 percent of requested medical transfers to outside hospitals in 2017 were approved—the lowest since 2006.
- 44 percent of the adult Gaza population is unemployed. Among youth, it’s 62 percent and among those with disabilities, it’s 90 percent.
- 65 percent of families live in poverty (95 percent among fishermen) and more than 72 percent don’t have enough food.
- Tomorrow’s protest is due to last until May 15, “Nakba day” (“Catastrophe” in English), which marks the expulsion of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in order to create the Jewish state of Israel in 1948.
[This report has been updated.]