March 30 - On This Day

March 30, 2018: Palestinian refugees launch the Great March of Return in Gaza

“The Nakba is not just a memory, it is an ongoing reality. We can accept that we all must eventually die; in Gaza; the tragedy is that we don’t get to live.”Ahmad Abu Artemah, organizer of the Great March of Return

On this day in 2018, Palestinians launched the Great March of Return, a series of weekly mass protests at the fence separating the occupied Gaza strip from Israel, demanding an end to the Israeli blockade and the right of refugees to return to their homes. Israeli snipers stationed at the fence opened fire indiscriminately on the demonstrators, deploying live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Over a period of two years, Israeli forces killed 214 Palestinians, including 46 children, and injured more than 36,100. Over 8,000 protestors were shot with live ammunition. Palestinian causalities as a result of the Great March of Return put a strain on the entire health and social system in Gaza, which was further exacerbated by the over-decade-long Israeli blockade.

Over the course of the weekly protests, thousands of people – mostly young men – were maimed, suffering devastating injuries that require months of surgery and physiotherapy to treat. According to Doctors Without Borders, within four days of the first demonstration, 102 Palestinian patients suffered from gun wounds in their lower limbs. A Haaretz investigation found that Israeli snipers deliberately targeted protestors’ limbs, boasting of the number of kneecaps they could shoot in a day. Additionally, Israeli violence against protestors had a significant effect on the psychosocial well-being and mental health of Palestinian refugees in Gaza.

A UN Commission of Inquiry found that Israel’s use of violence against demonstrators was not necessary nor appropriate and that it violated international law - possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. In nearly all cases, “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful.” The Commission of Inquiry’s report continued:

“Victims who were hundreds of metres away from the Israeli forces and visibly engaged in civilian activities were shot, as shown by eyewitness accounts, video footage and medical records. Journalists and medical personnel who were clearly marked as such were shot, as were children, women and persons with disabilities.”

The Great March of Return turned into a major movement in Gaza in which Palestinian civil society, political factions and international organizations participated. The right of return for Palestinian refugees was central to the peaceful demonstrations as around 70 percent of Gaza’s population are refugees who were displaced during either the 1948 Nakba (“catastrophe”) or the 1967 war and barred from returning to their land, which in many cases is only a few kilometres away.

The Canadian government failed to comment on Israeli violence against protestors until Palestinian-Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani was wounded by Israeli live fire while providing medical aid in Gaza and despite being clearly identified as a first responder. Trudeau issued a statement saying that the Canadian government was “appalled” by the incident. Read CJPME’s recap of this incident here.


Read more:

Gaza’s Great March of Return protests explained – Al Jazeera

Gaza’s Great March of Return: Six months on, we are still struggling against Israeli oppression – Middle East Eye

’42 Knees in One Day’: Israeli Snipers Open Up About Shooting Gaza Protestors - Haaretz

Two Years On: People Injured and Traumatized During the “Great March of Return” are Still Struggling - United Nations

May 14, 2018: Palestinian-Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani shot by Israel while providing medical aid in Gaza - CJPME