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When death becomes the last option

In the weekly demonstrations at the Gaza border, thousands of protesters stake their lives for a better future.


Just four days after leaving the hospital, where his foot had been treated following a hit by an explosive bullet, Yaser al-Jarousha insisted on participating in "The March for the Great Return," which started 30. March. Al-Jarousha, along with thousands of others, protested this ninth Friday of the weekly demonstration.

The 27 year-old unemployed geologist gave a blast as to whether he was shot and killed this time. "I am going to participate more and more in the protests, as life in Gaza is characterized by blockade and poverty; either I will live in dignity in a whole nation, or die in battle on the border. ”

An unbearable place

Since the demonstration began, Israeli forces have killed at least 118 protesters, and over 13 000 is injured. The events on the border took place at the same time as the US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem and were the bloodiest for Palestinians since the war in 2014.

"The Great March" began on what the Palestinians call "Land Day," and is carried out in memory of Nakba ("The disaster") that occurred 70 years ago, when about 750 000 Palestinians were forced away from their homes in favor of establishing the Israeli state in 1948. Many of Gaza's police officers were posted to the city's most important hospital, al-Shifa, that day to keep track of the emergency department, where it boiled by busy doctors, patients and grieving and angry families waiting for their bloody sons.

Near the emergency department is 47-year-old Maha al-Ostaz, the aunt of a critically injured protester who is waiting for treatment. She says that her nephew has applied for entry into Denmark, but failed time and time again. "These young people want a better life so that they can take care of their families," she tells Ny Tid. "Why is it that the Israelis rejoice over our villages and our land, while we have to live with poverty and deprivation during the blockade? What kind of future can we expect when we are not even able to charge a mobile phone with only four hours of electricity per day? ”

Approximately 96 percent of Gaza water is unsuitable for human consumption, and last summer the power supply operated only two hours a day. Unemployment in Gaza is at 42 percent, the highest in the world, despite the fact that much has to be rebuilt after three wars. Many residents suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

Impossible situation

Perry Cammack, a member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East program, believes the Gaza demonstrations are an example of non-violent popular resistance among Palestinians – and this includes Hamas. "It's the best and most effective form of combat," he says.

Therefore, it was emphasized that weapons should not be used at all, and that many symbols of the Palestinian Revolution of Independence and the right to return should be clearly identified: tents (representing refugee camps) and old keys (symbolizing the keys of Palestinian home abandoned in 1948).

The American political writer Norman Finkelstein, who recently released Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom, writes that the Palestinians are in a "no-win situation": "The Palestinians, including Hamas, were told that the demonstration would go peacefully," he claims. "'Where's the Palestinian Gandhi?' was a question often repeated by the Palestinians, but when Hamas is involved in a peaceful demonstration, we are told that as Hamas participates in the protests, the protesters are a legitimate target for snipers. "

Finkelstein believes that when you shoot and kill unarmed protesters, you urge them to arm themselves. He writes that the Israeli allegations of violence are easily revealed by looking at the injuries and deaths inflicted on Israelis during the so-called violent protests: "Since 30. March is not a single Israeli soldier or civilian injured or killed. But it is true that one Israeli soldier got some scraps 14. May."

Mukhaimer Abu Seda, a Gaza political analyst, says Palestinians are forced to pay the price until they can find an alternative – and then defend it, no matter how much blood is spilled. "These demonstrations have created mixed feelings of sadness, hope and pain," he says.


Israeli siege policy affects all aspects of Gaza life. Traveling to get medical treatment or study is far from impossible. Abu Seda adds that every day the siege persists, the situation gets worse. While the shooting is visible in wars, the blockade causes a slow death. And when people suffer from difficulty getting enough food, power outages, poor drinking water and severe travel restrictions, the situation becomes the same as in a war. The bloody weekly demonstrations in Gaza, where thousands risk their lives to protest a life of barbed wire fencing, have turned the world's attention to the desperation of the Gaza people.

When you shoot and kill unarmed protesters, you urge them to arm themselves.

There has always been a notion that the protesters almost threw themselves in front of the bullets of Israeli snipers. Since the first weeks of the demonstration, I have talked to activists who were 150 meters from the border fence, who believe that their lives are worthless whether they are killed by bullets or not. "We are already dead in Gaza, and could just as easily fall for a bullet or a gas cylinder," Mohammed Tawahina, a 24-year-old participant in the protests backed by a crutch, told Ny Tid.

In the western part of the beleaguered enclave, where there are nearly two million Palestinians, most of them long-term refugees, there is the desperation to feel and feel almost every house. After a decade of Israeli-Egyptian blockade, the people of Gaza are experiencing no change – neither political nor in terms of daily life.

Increasing suicide figures

The blockade is devastating to the minds and now drives an unprecedented number of citizens to commit suicide. Earlier, it was unusual to hear about suicide in Palestinian society, as it is a taboo in Islamic culture.

After nine years of severe blockade, many cases of injuries after falls from tall buildings have been reported. The head of the psychological aid program in the Gaza Strip, Azmi Al-Astal, told Ny Tid: "Suicide in Gaza is not linked to mental illness. Those who have tried to take their own lives have lost all hope because of the unchanging situation and the problems of meeting basic needs for themselves and their families. "

Around 95 people attempted suicide in the first quarter of 2016, an increase of nearly 40 percent from 2015, according to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.

Bo Schack, head of operations at the United Nations Refugee Office (UNRWA) in Gaza, says: “Palestinian refugees in Gaza are experiencing ever-increasing levels of stress and despair. The reports of suicide attacks across the Gaza Strip, something you have never heard of, but which have now become commonplace, clearly show that the Palestinians' ability to cope with the stresses is diminished. ”

Around 400 000 children show symptoms of exhaustion, including bedwetting, parenting clamor and nightmares, and need psychosocial help. Half of Gaza's population is under 18 years, according to a UNICEF report in August 2014.

Hope that died

Back to political analyst Abu Seda. He believes there is a big gap between what the citizens hope for and what is the reality on the ground. Since the fall of 2017, everyone in Gaza has been waiting to hear good news after the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in October. Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control over Gaza to Fatah. It also included the important border crossing Rafah, a decade after Hamas conquered the enclave in a civil war.

However, those hopes fell short after the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, intensified the blockade in April this year by imposing sanctions on Palestinians in Gaza, including stops in payroll payments to public servants, while many were forced into early retirement.

It is worth noting that the Israeli Supreme Court has unanimously rejected two petitions by human rights groups demanding that the Israeli army stop using snipers and sharp ammunition against unarmed protesters in Gaza. The panel of three judges supported the Israeli military, which claims the demonstrations pose a real danger to Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Israel maintains the soldiers' use of sharp ammunition and believes it is in compliance with domestic and international law. The argument is that the demonstrations are part of the country's conflict with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

In the Malaka fields, I meet 61-year-old Rabiha Abu Saleh, mother of six children. She confirms that she participates in all the weekly protests. “I also encourage four of my children to go to the border. My husband doesn't have work, my kids can't finish high school, and how long should we continue to be refugees? " she says. Abu Saleh and her parents were expelled in 1948 from Hiribya – 14 kilometers northeast of Gaza.

Nadia Othman
Nadia Othman
Othman is a regular correspondent for Ny Tid, living in Gaza.

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