Following Cease-fire, Gaza Protest Organizers Urge Restrained Nakba Day Marches

Thousands of Palestinians expected to participate in demonstrations along Israeli border, as Hamas officials await remainder of Qatari aid money

Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags as they march during a demonstration commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Nakba in Gaza City, May 14, 2019.
Mohammed Abed/AFP

The organizing committee of the Great March of Return in Gaza has called for Palestinians to participate in Nakba Day rallies on Wednesday, which they say will be popular and non-violent.

Monitors will be deployed to prevent any mass movement toward the border fence with Israel, organizers added. 

From the afternoon, masses of people are expected to pitch tents along the border fence, similar to the weekly Friday protests held over the past year. Organizers also called for a general strike on Wednesday.

“We don’t want to give the Israeli military forces any excuse to hurt our young people, and we don’t want to increase the tension in the border region,” committee member Talal Abu Zarifa told Haaretz.

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Nakba, the Arabic word for disaster or catastrophe, is the Palestinian term used to describe Israel's founding and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 war.

The Palestinian decision to keep the protests at a moderate level is linked to the implementation of the cease-fire deal struck earlier this month to end the worst Gaza round of violence in five years. As a part of these understandings, crossings to Gaza were opened at the start of the week, and the fishing zone was extended to 12 nautical miles.

Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi and United Nations envoy Nikolay Mladenov held talks in Gaza this week with top Hamas officials and political leader Ismail Haniyeh.

A source close to Hamas told Haaretz that the financial agreements have yet to be implemented in their entirety. Thus far, about 120,000 needy families have received $100 each, but there has been no decision yet to pay wages to Hamas officials who haven’t received their salaries in two months. After two previous rounds of fighting, Hamas officials did receive their salaries as part of truce understandings. Gaza residents are now urging organization leaders via social media to pay officials’ wages by the end of May, at the close of the current month of Ramadan.

“Whoever thinks that $100 can improve something for poor families and change the atmosphere for the better is making a big mistake,” the source said, adding that “people in Gaza still hope for change, in light of the promises made by the Qatari delegation and the UN envoy and declarations made by faction leaders that Israel would implement the understandings and the blockade will be eased.”

Speaking on Tuesday evening, Al-Emadi said the issue of the payment of salaries to civil servants employed by Hamas in Gaza is still under discussion and that at this stage, the Qatari funding is being earmarked for needy families, for improvements relating to the electricity shortages in the Strip and for other humanitarian projects. With regard to the assistance to needy families, he said the $100 payments would be made monthly for six months.

Al-Emadi said about a third of the funding being invested by Qatar in Gaza would be devoted to boosting electricity supplies by funding diesel fuel for the electricity plant there and increasing the power supplied from Israel by 100 megawatts.

As part of the humanitarian effort, work will begin on a new hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, the envoy noted. He called upon the international community to lend its own assistance and warned that if the situation is not addressed, it will be very dangerous. Referring to the flareup of fighting in the south at the beginning of the month, he said the escalation occurred contrary to the wishes of both Israel and Hamas, explaining that, as he put it, another faction in Gaza created a crisis on the border that led to the flareup.

A senior Hamas source was quoted on Tuesday by the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper as saying that the Qatari money entering Gaza would contribute to stability but that Israel has also promised under these understandings to improve the situation for prisoners. The senior figure added that messages relayed to Gaza by Egyptian mediators were that Israel intends to carry out its promises to improve electricity infrastructure and to invest in projects aimed at encouraging employment.

Mladenov said on Sunday, during a visit to Khan Younis that he hoped all sides would do all they can to prevent a collapse of the current calm and to complete all the projects that have been planned. He urged all parties to cooperate, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel, for the sake of building a better future for Gaza’s people.“

A year ago the Nakba Day demonstrations came against the backdrop of the transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Hamas managed a turnout of about 40,000 Gazans along the Israeli border at 12 separate locations. The situation quickly escalated and 61 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces.