'We have the right to live': Why Palestinians in Gaza will keep protesting
"What are you guys doing here on a normal day?" I asked a group of Palestinian youth protesters on a recent Thursday.
"Why not be here? Where do you want us to be?" one answered. "We are unemployed, we have no electricity at home, we have no money; this is the only place we can express how angry and depressed we feel."
Another chimed in: "No PA salaries, no Rafah crossing - even the sea is polluted. Do you think we are scared of being shot or killed? Do you think they scare us with their snipers? Our presence here scares them; holding a Palestinian flag freaks them out … The life in Gaza is unbearable. We are slowly dying."
I actually already knew the answer before I asked, having lived in the same open-air prison for 11 years.
Two million people live in Gaza, which faces a collapsing economy and socioeconomic devastation. The unemployment rate has surpassed 40 percent, while 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza depend on humanitarian aid. Confronted with such oppression, Palestinians have no other option than to raise their voices in protest.
After five weeks of these marches, I have realised that they are not only demanding the right to return, but also the right to live
As a 23-year-old Palestinian freelance journalist, I have been covering the protests since day one. Being in that space, you meet thousands of people you never imagined you’d meet, and hear their stories about life in the occupied territories. You leave with the feeling that despite the difficult circumstances, you love the fact that you are a Palestinian living on this land.
On the first day of protests, 30 March, posters on the streets and social media platforms advertised the Great Return March. Thousands of Palestinians marched to the fence to commemorate Land Day; a six-week tent protest was planned near the fence separating Gaza and Israel.
Palestinian flags were held high, and people of all ages and genders united, despite the internal political split dividing Palestinians. They marched towards the fence with a united message to the world: We have a right to return to our land.
The right to live
After five weeks of these marches, I have realised that they are not only demanding the right to return, but also the right to live.
As a Palestinian living under more than a decade of blockade, with zero freedom of movement and no job opportunities, trapped by land, sea and air, there are few options besides going to a place where you can freely express your anger.
The Great Return March has a beautiful Palestinian spirit; people spend their days amid the protest tents, cooking, dancing and playing sports. I love the atmosphere every Friday, as all these people come out to defeat the Israeli snipers by standing peacefully near the fence.
Every Friday, I see Israeli soldiers with heavy weapons stationed behind the fence, firing teargas canisters, live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets in an attempt to disperse the protesters. The only thing I hate about Fridays is having to report the number of people killed and injured.
Bravery and courage
Despite all their efforts, the Israelis have been unable to disperse or end these protests. Can you imagine 1,000-plus protesters uniting to pull down the extra fencing that Israeli forces add each Friday, in an attempt to stop the protesters from reaching the real fence?
Bravery and courage: this is the feeling that emanates from all these strong, unarmed protesters.
And yet, the Western media continues to describe the Great Return March protests as confrontations. Dozens of snipers have been stationed along the border since 30 March, while Israeli forces use jeeps and drones to fire tear gas at protesters who have no weapons or shields.
These people are protesting against 11 years of Israel’s blockade and 70 years of being driven from their homeland, along with an ongoing history of violence, restrictions and closures.
The Israelis are not only targeting protesters, but every Palestinian near the fence, whether a journalist or a paramedic. Last Friday, a medical station 800 metres from the fence was targeted by tear gas, injuring at least five paramedics.
In addition, Palestinian journalists Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein were killed after being directly targeted by Israeli snipers, despite wearing “press” jackets.
"Take care, don't go near the fence." That’s what everyone has been telling me since the beginning of the protests; everyone knows that Israeli snipers don’t really differentiate between who they target.
I’ve choked from tear gas at least seven times since the beginning of the protests, but this won’t stop me from going to cover the demonstrations. Covering these protests for the Western media is a responsibility, because US and Israeli propaganda have been conquering the news, spreading rumours and mistruths.
I’ve choked from tear gas at least seven times since the beginning of the protests, but this won’t stop me from going to cover the demonstrations
Even the deaths of Murtaja and Abu Hussein will not scare me away; rather, this makes me more determined to follow in their footsteps, showing the world the truth about Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
We have the right to live without restrictions, to have 24 hours of electricity a day, to travel, and to live like any other human being on this planet. Most of the protesters have never left Gaza; they’ve only seen Jerusalem and the occupied territories in pictures on the internet, or heard stories from ancestors.
The land beyond the fence is the dream of every Palestinian living in Gaza. They’ll keep protesting, because they believe that this land is their right. They are fed up with silence.
- Hind Khoudary is a TV reporter based in Gaza with a special interest in political, humanitarian and social issues.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Palestinians participate in Great Return March protests (Hind Khoudary/Middle East Eye)