Gaza Border Protest Organizer: Israel Portrays Us as Savages. But All We Seek Is Freedom

One Gaza resident says the marches have become a family affair, with many seeing the rally as a welcome break from the suffocating cities

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration commemorating Land Day near the Israel-Gaza border, March 30, 2018.
SAID KHATIB/AFP

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are preparing for a prolonged stay near the Israel border, lasting at least until May 15, when Palestinians will mark the 70th anniversary of what they term the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, of Israel’s creation.

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Organizers are planning daily events involving all the Palestinian parties. Over the next week, women will explain the protest while local artists conduct activities for children. Trade union representatives and clan leaders are also expected to visit the tent encampments along the Gaza-Israel border.

A member of the organization committee said that while Israel is trying to portray the Palestinians as savages rushing the border fence to attack soldiers, “We say to Israelis that there’s a nation in Gaza which seeks to live and seeks freedom and liberty. Israel can claim from every possible platform that this is violence and make threats, but we’ll continue to show the world different pictures.”

A Palestinian family passes tents at a tent city protest along the Israel-Gaza border, April 1, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS
Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes with troops along the Israel-Gaza border, March 31, 2018.
Adel Hana/AP

One Gaza resident who attended the weekend’s march with his family said many families see the demonstrations as a kind of picnic, a chance to leave the suffocating cities for the open air. “We came with food and water and sat there for several hours. The children flew kites with a Palestinian flag and sent them toward Israeli territory. I think many families will do the same in the coming weeks.”

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The presence of women and children at the protest camps was evident in posts on social media. One of the most widely viewed pictures was that of Mohammed Bassem Ayyash, a young boy wearing what Gazans are now calling an “onion mask” — a homemade mask filled with onions to protect himself from the effects of the Israeli army’s tear gas.

The picture, taken on Friday, quickly went viral, and on Sunday, Ayyash and his father were invited to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s office to receive an award.

“Children like Mohammed are the answer to those who want to liquidate the Palestinian issue and propose devious plans to achieve this goal,” Haniyeh said. “The marches in Gaza are fundamentally nonviolent, and that’s the message we want to send the world.”

The organizers are being careful to separate activities in the tent encampment from what is happening a few hundred meters closer to the border. They said the young men confronting Israeli soldiers at the fence are doing so at their own initiative, but have drawn inspiration from the tent protest.

“You have to understand, these are frustrated young men helpless in the face of high unemployment and an economy on the brink of collapse, so many have nothing to lose and go out to vent their anger and frustration,” said R., who has been demonstrating near the fence since Friday.

Organizers plan to gradually escalate the protests until their mid-May peak, and believe popular protests will intensify in the West Bank as well.