Why I marched on May 14 in Gaza near the Israeli fence

No, it was not because ‘Hamas made me’.

Gaza march
Palestinians gather for the Great March of Return at the Israel-Gaza border on May 14, 2018 [Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa]

I have been going to the Great March of Return in Gaza two to three times a week, ever since it started on March 30. It makes me feel closer to my village of Zarnouqa, which once stood near what used to be the Palestinian city of al-Ramla. Israeli militias ethnically cleansed the area in 1948, expelling tens of thousands of Palestinians, including my parents.

The Great March of Return is the beginning of our long walk to freedom to undo this injustice of 1948.

We march for three reasons. One, we want UN Resolution 194, which calls for the return of all Palestinian refugees to their lands, to be implemented. Two, we want the genocidal siege imposed on Gaza by apartheid Israel to be lifted. Three, we refuse to accept the decision to move the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem

We, the marchers, belong to all sectors of Palestinian civil society and all spectrums of political organisations. And despite what the Zionist hasbara (propaganda) might have you believe, it wasn’t Hamas who “made” us march.

The National Committee of the March has representatives from all Palestinian political organisations, including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the National Initiative, among others.

On May 14, I was one of tens of thousands of Gazans who decided to go to the eastern fence lined with Israeli snipers.

“Today will be a grand day in Palestinian history! A day all Palestinians, Arabs and freedom-loving people will remember for ages to come!” I wrote on my Facebook wall just before I left home that day to drive with my three friends – an academic, a salesman and an activist – to join the march.

There were tens of thousands of people there with us – men, women and children, entire families from all walks of life. 

These thousands of people, walking unarmed to the fence to demand their right to return, worried Israel. Its government gave instructions to the soldiers to shoot any civilian trying to “trespass”.

And so the shooting began as early as nine o’clock that morning. I saw women, children, amputees, young men, and elderly get shot, even though they were not trying to “trespass”. One young man, whose face I will never forget, was shot in the abdomen and never made it to the hospital.

A young woman, whose face was covered with a Palestinian keffiyeh, was shot in the neck but survived.  By the end of the day, we lost 60 people, and more than 2,700 were injured.

The most heartbreaking deaths were those of eight-month-old baby Laila El-Ghandour and Fadi Abu Saleh, an amputee who had lost his legs to an Israeli mine. Two of the 60 martyrs were brothers. 

And then, I received the news of the martyrdom of my friend Ahmed al-Udini, who left behind a 3-year-old daughter. He was a leftist student activist and after graduation joined the Boycott Divestment Sanctions group in Gaza and worked as a show presenter at the Al-Shaab radio station. He was no “terror threat” as Israel would have you believe.

As we get ready to bury him and the rest of the dead, we know that we have been abandoned. The bitter reality is that we are alone, beleaguered, under siege, and undesirable even to some of those who are supposed to be our brethren.

For six weeks now, we have faced the onslaught by one of the world’s strongest armies, which possesses hundreds of nuclear warheads, more than 150,000 troops on active duty, Merkava battle tanks, F-16 jets, Apache attack helicopters, gunboats and drones.

When Israel is not sniping us down or bombing us, it exerts great effort to ensure that we live in subhuman conditions under siege in Gaza. We get electricity for only 4 hours a day, 95 percent of our water is undrinkable, and our seriously ill wither away as they wait for months for a permit to get treatment in the West Bank.

As our hospitals, already crippled by the siege, are struggling to cope with the 12,000 injured since March 30, some Arab regimes and a complicit EU are doing absolutely nothing except issuing timid statements. In reality, they have let down the Palestinians for years, and to this day, official international attitudes are a combination of cowardice and hypocrisy.

The international community, the UN, the EU, and Arab leaders have remained largely silent about the atrocities committed by apartheid Israel. Instead, they are asking us to stay quiet in Gaza, the largest open-air concentration camp, so as not to inconvenience the Israeli occupiers.

We are expected to conduct ourselves as “house Palestinians,” like the house slaves who were grateful to their white masters and who were satisfied to eat the leftovers from their tables. We are required to accept our slow death and show no form of resistance, to accept that if we get shot, then it is our own fault.

As we are burying our dead, we do know that we have only one tenable option. This option does not entail waiting for the UNSC, the EU or the Arab League to convene.

This option is “power of the people”, the only force capable of facing off with the Israeli military occupation. We have chosen to fight for dignity, a departure from years of self-deception that portrayed slavery under the occupier as a fait accompli.

The result of this decision made by Palestinian civil society and all political forces is the Great March of Return.

The only way forward for us is to follow the same route as the South African struggle. It focused on mobilising the masses on the ground rather than indifferent governments around the world.

What hope could South Africans have had to get help from the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan? It was up to ordinary South Africans and global citizens to reject and resist the crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system.

Our main advantage as Palestinians in this unequal fight is what the late Edward Said called “the high moral ground.” Our victory at the end will be the inevitable result of our steadfastness that has not wavered despite the feeling that we have been left on our own.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.