Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are planning a six-week-long tent city protest near the Israeli border, starting on March 30, demanding that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their homes in Israel, organizers said on Wednesday.
Such a demonstration, envisaging families camped out along the border area, could present a dilemma for the Israeli military that enforces a “no-go” zone for Palestinians on land adjacent to Israel’s frontier fence.
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Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border are frequently confronted by Israeli soldiers with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
Ahmed Abu Ayesh, a spokesman for a coordinating committee, said plans were for hundreds or thousands of people, including entire families, to live in tents erected “at the nearest, safe point from the border”. The United Nations, Abu Ayesh said, would be notified of the rally.
A statement issued by the organizing committee urged Palestinians in Gaza to take part in this “national project that endorses peaceful resistance as a new way to win our rights, foremost the right of return” of refugees to what is now Israel.
The protest is set to begin on March 30, the annual “Land Day” commemorating the six Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations in 1976 over land confiscations.
It will end, the organizers said, on May 15, the day Palestinians call the “Nakba” or “catastrophe”, marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by the creation of Israel in 1948.
Organizers said the protest is supported by several Palestinian political parties. The parties, the organizers added, would have no formal presence at the venue, where portable toilets and food would be supplied.
In the town of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian journalist got a jump-start on the protest, erecting two tents about 450 meters from the border fence, to promote the planned demonstration.
“I admired the idea,” Muthana an-Najar told Reuters, predicting that Israeli forces “will be confused about how to handle” the protest.
The Palestinians’ right of return has been a cornerstone of their demands for any settlement of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians’ demand that about five million of their compatriots be granted the right to return to lands and homes in Israel that they or their kin lost.
Israel rules this out, fearing that the Palestinians’ return would eliminate its Jewish majority, and argues the refugees should resettle in a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories it occupied in the 1967 war.
One of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the right of return. Article 13(b) of the UDHR states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”