Palestinians have staged protests along the Gaza Strip’s eastern borders for the second Friday in a row, despite Israel’s warning that it will not change its open-fire policy.
The first protests on March 30, dubbed the Great March of Return, saw tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrating near the border for their right of return as enshrined in UN Resolution 194.
Israeli forces responded with live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets against the protesters, resulting in the killing of 17 Palestinians and the wounding of more than 1,600, in the bloodiest day since the 2014 Israeli offensive on the besieged coastal enclave.
A number of Palestinian protesters demonstrating throughout the week were also killed by Israeli forces. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, the death toll since last Friday has gone up to 21.
The peaceful character of the protests has Israel confused
Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a political analyst, said that targeting Palestinian civilians is “a new-old policy” pursued by Israel, especially under the far-right government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I expect that Israel will continue targeting as many Palestinians as possible in order to discourage them from participating in the event, as part of its intimidation policy,” Abu Ramadan told Al Jazeera.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that there was no intention for the army to change their “rules of engagement” against Palestinian protesters.
“If there are provocations, there will be a reaction of the harshest kind like last week,” he told Israeli public radio on Thursday.
Hamas not interested in confrontation
Israeli officials have accused Hamas of being behind the protests, saying the movement exploits Palestinian men, women and children and deliberately exposes them to danger near the border fence.
The organisers behind the Great March of Return have rejected these claims.
“The march is organised by refugees, doctors, lawyers, university students, Palestinian intellectuals, academics, civil society organisations and Palestinian families,” Asad Abu Sharekh, the spokesperson of the march said.
“These claims of Hamas being behind the protests is Israel’s way to sabotage the idea of the march in order to justify its escalation against protesters.”
Abu Ramadan said Israel is attempting to drag the protests into a military escalation.
“The peaceful character of the protests has Israel confused,” he said. “Recently, Israel exaggerated the presence and discovery of explosive devices on the border with Gaza.
“They also continuously talk about the presence of gunmen among the demonstrators. All this is aimed at dragging the Palestinians into the battlefield, where Israel reigns superior.”
Abdellatif al-Qanou, Hamas spokesperson, said that his movement is not interested in any escalation with Israel.
“We back the peaceful movement of our people,” he told Al Jazeera. “Israeli occupation bears the full responsibility of targeting protesters, and we will not be dragged to any confrontation.”
“The march is supported by Palestinian factions and is the people’s choice,” he said, adding that Hamas, along with other political parties, will fully take part in the protests.
“The upcoming days will witness a greater gathering of people protesting for their rights,” he said. “Our people cannot tolerate more conspiracies, pressure and suffocation.”
Big stick policy
For his part, Abu Amer, head of the department of political sciences at Gaza’s Ummah University, said that Israel would not back down and allow people to protest freely.
“Israel will resort to break up these protests with military force and economic strangulation,” he said. “It has always used the big stick policy against protesters. It regards letting these protests take place unhindered as a surrender to Palestinians.”
Abu Ramadan shared the same thoughts. “What Israel fears most is peaceful popular movement,” he said. “Israel thinks that the protests will result in the Palestinians entering the borders.”
Throughout the week, there were a number of events and activities that took place as part of the movement, with participating Palestinians gathered in makeshift tents set up 700 metres away from the Israeli fence.
As declared by Palestinian civil organisations and unions backing the demonstration, the planned protests will continue until the Nakba anniversary on May 15, which will mark 70 years since 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their villages and towns by Israeli forces in 1948.
Kayed al-Ghoul, an official with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said that the statements by Israeli officials last week regarding the army’s aggressive policy only affirms Israeli intention to target Palestinians.
“Israel wants to block the road to peaceful activities that holds the right of return at its focal point,” al-Ghoul said.