Gaza City, Gaza Strip – Palestinian groups in Gaza have pledged to continue protests along the border to pressure Israel to remove its blockade and to allow for the reconstruction of Gaza following the recent 11-day Israeli assault on the coastal enclave.
The factions, led by Gaza’s rulers Hamas, held a news conference on Sunday afternoon in the east of Gaza near the Israeli fence, where protests took place on Saturday in which dozens of Palestinian protesters were wounded by Israeli live fire.
In a joint statement released after the news conference, the groups – which also included Islamic Jihad, the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), as well as other smaller factions – stated that “the Israeli occupation must bear the responsibility for its obstruction of the reconstruction of Gaza, and for the blockade”.
“We call on our people to continue their popular uprising in Gaza and to expand the points of engagement with the occupation, and our popular activity will proceed according to a plan … we will not accept the continuation of the siege.”
On Saturday hundreds of Palestinians protested at the fence separating Gaza and Israel to mark the 52nd anniversary of the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem and to draw attention to the blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 when Hamas took control of the strip.
Live fire by Israeli forces injured at least 41 Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy who remains in critical condition after being shot in the neck.
An Israeli soldier was injured and is in critical condition from gunfire from one of the protesters. Videos circulating on social media showed several protesters attempting to grab the Israeli soldier’s rifle, visible through a hole in the wall before one of them pulled a gun and fires into the hole.
On Saturday night, Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas’ military positions in the Gaza Strip in response. No casualties were reported.
Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas official, told Al Jazeera that is was “natural that the Palestinian people who suffer under a crippling blockade move to take action to pressure Israel and the international community to take responsibility for the situation in Gaza”.
“The Palestinian protesters, and the Palestinian factions, want to raise their voice and remind Israel and especially the international community of their plight, and increasingly so after the recent war on Gaza, and the massive destruction the Israeli military caused.”
The Israeli- and Egyptian-imposed blockade has crippled Gaza’s economy and living conditions have drastically deteriorated after each of the four extensive military operations that Israel launched on the Gaza Strip since the blockade was imposed.
Over 11 days of fighting in May, Israel bombarded Gaza with air attacks, while Palestinian groups fired rockets into Israel.
More than 250 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children and 39 women, and 1,710 people wounded, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including a five-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.
The war also left more than 1,800 housing units in Gaza completely destroyed, and about 16,800 housing units suffered partial damage, according to Gaza’s Public Works and Housing Ministry.
Yousef said that “no significant progress” has been made in reconstruction as construction materials are still largely banned due to the Israeli blockade.
“The scenes of destruction in Gaza are still everywhere,” he said. “The message that the protesters want to convey is that the situation is unsustainable and its continuation will lead to more action by the Palestinians.”
Protesting the blockade
From 2018-2019, thousands of Palestinians attended weekly rallies near the Israeli fence east of Gaza, protesting the blockade and for their right to return to lands they were ethnically cleansed from in 1948.
The protests were met with violence by Israeli forces, who killed more than 300 protesters and maimed hundreds more, but managed to force limited concessions such as easing some of its economic restrictions and allowing Qatar to deliver money in monthly payments to needy Gaza families and Hamas salaries.
Qatar, Egypt, and the UN have brokered talks between groups in Gaza and Israel for a long-term ceasefire following the recent military confrontation.
On Thursday, Israel – which under the leadership of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had blocked Qatari monetary aid to Gaza – announced an agreement with Doha to resume aid payments via the United Nations to thousands of families in Gaza.
However, Israel has continued to block the import of key reconstruction materials, conditioning permission on Hamas’s release of Israeli captives in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, however, insists that the issue of Israeli prisoners is a separate issue that must be dealt with only within the framework of a prisoner exchange deal.
“For more than 13 years, Israel has entrapped Gaza in a cycle of bombardment and a blockade that prevents any full rehabilitation from the resultant destruction,” Palestinian political analyst Husam al-Dajani told Al Jazeera.
He said Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and the collective punishment of more than two million people who live there is a crime under international law.
“The blockade that Israel placed on Gaza has also decimated Gaza’s economy, and all aspects of life, to the point where poverty, unemployment and food insecurity is amongst the highest levels in the world,” Al-Dajani.
“The only thing that the Palestinian factions, and the Palestinian people are doing now, is saying ‘no’ to that grim situation. That’s what they’re doing.”
Jamil Mizhir, a leader from the PFLP faction, said, “it’s becoming impossible to remain silent in the face of this continued economic aggression from Israel against the Palestinian people.”
“Israeli leaders are in denial if they think that the violence against the Palestinian protesters will break the Palestinian people’s will or deter them from pursuing their struggle for freedom, and for a better life,” Mizhir said.
“We hold Israel and the international community accountable for the continued suffering of our people caused by this unjust blockade,” Mizhir said.