TEL AVIV – Thousands of Gaza’s Palestinians will gather at the border with Israel on Friday and set up a “tent city” for a six-week-long protest “to demand the right of return to the homes and villages that they were expelled from in 1948,” Ahmad Abu Ratima, an organizer of the protest, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Friday’s “day of rage” will coincide with both Passover eve and Palestinian Land Day, which marks events in 1976 that reflect the Palestinians’ struggle to own the land. The protest will be ongoing until Nakba Day – the day of “catastrophe” that marks the establishment of the State of Israel.
The protest will be “peaceful and nonviolent,” Abu Ratima said.
“We have even decided that no rocks will be thrown,” he said. “We will be participating in a number of nonviolent activities.”
The border area is a restricted military zone and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot made it clear that if the protesters threaten Israeli lives, live fire will be used by the army.
“If there will be a danger to lives, we will authorize live fire,” Eisenkot said on Wednesday. “The orders are to use a lot of force.”
Hamas security forces will be present “to maintain stability,” a Hamas official told the Post.
On Sunday, Hamas launched a large-scale military exercise in the Gaza Strip in response to Israel’s increase of forces along the border ahead of the planned mass march.
Explosions and gunfire were heard during the drill and at least one rocket was launched into the sea as part of the exercise. Tractors outfitted to look like Israeli-made Merkava tanks were used to simulate IDF forces.
However, Abu Ratima said that the planned march on Friday will take place some 700 meters away from the security fence and will not attempt to breach it.
But he did add that leaders of the protest, comprised of civil society, independents and political factions, may decide at a later date in the six-week protest to approach the border fence.
“In the end, we believe it is our right to return to our land in accordance with [UN General Assembly] Resolution 194. While we have not made a decision to go toward the fence, we could in the future,” he said.
UN Security Council Resolution 194 says Palestinian refugees “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.”
Abu Ratima expressed his hope that Israelis would welcome the protest and realize the benefits of one, democratic state that would include the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“We believe this is an opportunity for peace, and we call on Israel to take advantage of it,” he said. “We want to get rid of the separation walls and coexist in a democratic state.”