Last Friday, during the weekly Great March of Return, Israeli forces opened fire killing 20 year old Palestinian, Saher Othman, and wounding dozens of others. This particular Friday was just like the any other since the peaceful demonstrations began in March of 2018. About 6,000 Palestinians stormed the border fence with their voices demanding their right to return to their homeland. There are reports of some participants throwing rocks and explosives over the fence into Israel territory, which the Israeli forces irrationally reasoned warrant enough to sanction open fire. However, these extreme actions have not been uncommon in the short history of the Great March of Return thus far. Al Jazeera reports that since these demonstrations started, 313 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and thousands more wounded. This number is juxtaposed strongly to the mere eight Israeli soldiers that have lost their lives in this conflict over the same period of time. While this statistic is in no way meant place a quantitative value on human life, it does serve to show the unfairness and unwarranted nature that their violence exhibits.
The protests that began in March 2018 consist of weekly riots named the “Great March of Return,” that were started by the Palestinian youth living in the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian journalist reports to Al Jazeera that thousands of Palestinians from different political backgrounds and ideologies have come together to form a united front against oppressive Israeli control. This journalist saw men, women, and children, “standing together in one field, raising the Palestinian flag and banners bearing the names of the villages and towns from which Israel had uprooted them.” These riots have commenced as a means to give these people in the Gaza strip a collectivized method to fight for their freedom. He further illuminates the peaceful nature of these demonstrations, “the Great Return March restored credence to the concept of peaceful struggle. If armed resistance confronts the occupation with bullets, the peaceful struggle confronts it with the power of words and the justice of the cause.” What is happening on the inside of the walls of the Gaza strip, however, are lives almost entirely void of peace.
Since Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israeli forces have exercised extreme sanctions on imports, exports and travel by land, air and sea. The Guardian reports that the Gaza Strip has a 70 percent youth unemployment rate and an utterly collapsed healthcare system with unsafe water and lack of access to hospital facilities. Those who consider the conditions of this place to be prison-like are not far off, since the UN has classified these atrocious restrictions as a “collective punishment.” People living within the strip have reported that they feel like they are not truly living; the Guardian further states that due to the lack of resources, options, and freedom, “people feel they are living in an uncontrollable environment. There is a feeling of powerlessness, helplessness and hopelessness.” This feeling compels these displaced people into so much misery that some even experience excruciating pain with no known cause. In understanding these conditions there is no question as to why these people would spend each Friday, in the case of Saher Othman, risking their lives in an attempt for a long desired freedom.
Unity is truly a force to be reckoned with and these protesters have demonstrated that courageously. Their commitment to the freedom of themselves and their future generations is an act of bravery that should inspire all of us and move us to action. Peace cannot be reached until each person’s right to a proper quality of life is respected, and that cannot be so until drastic efforts are made in the Gaza Strip.