For the past year, I’ve had to endure this question: Why do you go to the Great Return March protests? Some ask out of sarcasm, while many are good-intentioned and want to hear the answer. Here’s what I have to say.
A year has passed and although I missed a few Fridays, I never stopped believing in the worthy cause of my people. What still amazes me is that the people never stopped going throughout the whole year. I saw them go under all kinds of different circumstances and weather conditions. In fact, just yesterday during the protest which marked the first anniversary of the GRM, the weather was rainy, windy and ground was muddy. That didn’t stop families from coming en mass and sitting or standing under make-shift tents. From where I stood, about 600 meters away, I could see flames of white tear gas being fired at the protestors and the strong winds carried the intoxicating smell towards the tents.
One of the major achievements of the Great Return March is that it has breathed life into our main Palestinian issues which have been threatened by the so called Deal of the Century. The foremost is the Right of Return to the towns and villages which my people were evicted from in 1948 in the most horrific ethnic cleansing of the 20th century. Over 70% of the Gazan population are refugees and by UN resolution 194 have the right to return to their homes. But when it comes to abiding by the rule of law, the Israel occupation state enjoys impunity and flagrantly rejects to implement any UN resolutions and has never been held accountable. This is the double standard of the international community and world powers and how they deal with matters where the Israeli occupation state is concerned.
My people realize that protesting for a year is not enough to gain right of return, so why keep protesting?
Along with the recurring large-scale attacks which the people of Gaza have had to endure, they have been living under a 12-year old blockade. Among many things, the blockade restricts freedom of movement, bans entry of essential items, goods and medicines, prevents patients from traveling to access treatment, restricts imports and exports, and reduces fishing zones and shoots and captures fishermen. The overall picture is grim where economy is collapsing, and unemployment skyrockets (almost 60%).
Imagine two million people being locked up in the biggest open-air prison in the world, living in the conditions described above and constantly subjected to Israeli bombardment, and watching family member get killed or die a slow death from disease. What would you expect them to do? How do you think their psychological state is like? What kind of future do our children have? They have been forced to grow up in an environment of deprivation and bombing.
In this context of deprivation and restlessness, my people took to the Gaza borders separating it from the rest of their occupied lands, and have decided to bang the walls of this big prison to demand lifting this illegal blockade. A year has passed and over 266 have been killed at the peaceful protests, yet this hasn’t deterred the protestors by any means. Again, they practice their legal right to peaceful assembly and are met with sniper fire. If they have to choose whether to die standing in the face of the oppressor while chanting for freedom, or dying a slow death under the blockade, I can unequivocally attest— they will choose to keep protesting and calling for their right to live in dignity and freedom like humans elsewhere.
By: Rans Shbair.