Onions and Vinegar for Tear Gas but Stay Away From the Border: Gaza Readies for Friday’s Mass Protests

Organizers of the march have issued assurances that friction with Israeli forces will be avoided

Women wave their national flags during a rally marking the 41st anniversary of Land Day, on the Palestinian side of the Beit Hanoun border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 30, 2017.
Adel Hana/AP

The Palestinian organizers of the mass march scheduled for Friday near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip have called on Gazans to come out in large numbers and participate, and to participate in Friday prayers to be held at several locations near the border fence.

The march will be safe, the organizing committee has reassured the public in Gaza over the past few days, saying nothing should prevent women, children and the elderly from participating. Protesters have been encouraged to wave Palestinian flags and carry posters with the names of their former villages in Israel, as well as the keys from the homes their families fled from during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

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The march, dubbed the March of Return, will remain 700 meters (nearly half a mile) from the Israeli border fence to avoid friction with Israeli forces, said the organizers. The marchers are set to gather at a number of sites along the length of the Gaza Strip, including one north of Beit Hanun not far from the Erez border crossing with Israel.

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The public has been encouraged to turn out en masse. Despite the organizers' cautions against approaching the border fence during the protests, there remains the possibility that large numbers of young people will still attempt to do so. “We have no way to guarantee everything will be under control,” said the organizers, who expect thousands to turn out. 

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An organizing committee member told Haaretz that the goal is to present the Palestinians' case to the world and not to engage in confrontations with the Israeli army. Hamas will deploy patrol units in the area to prevent marchers from approaching the border, he added.

An illustration of Palestinians marching on Gaza fence for "The Great Return March" to be held March 30, 2018

Hamas has expressed its full support for the march, saying it is another active step against the continued blockade and occupation of Gaza. All the Palestinian factions in Gaza, including Fatah, have announced they will take part in the march and published announcements saying buses will take participants to the the protests.

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In pictures, posters and on social media, the organizers took pains to promote the march using pictures of children and highlighting the demand of refugees and their descendants to return to their family homes in what is now Israel, a demand that they seek to perpetuate from generation to generation.

A Palestinian poster calling for people to join 'The Great March of Return' on the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, March 30 2018

One poster explained that the march was intended to bring together all Palestinian factions, adding that banners of individual organizations would not be permitted. The message of the march is that residents of Gaza have had enough of the blockade of the Gaza Strip and insist on the right of return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.

The organizers also publicized rules of conduct, including what should be done if smoke grenades or tear gas are used against them, suggesting that marchers use household vinegar and onions to counteract the effects, and also to face into the wind.

Nonetheless, some people in Gaza oppose the march given the present circumstances. The opponents do not object to the protests in principle, but say Hamas and the other Palestinian factions are exploiting the march, a social activist who opposes Hamas rule told Haaretz. A large number of people may go out and march but it is clear to many that this is just exploiting the distress of Gaza residents, she said. She added that because Hamas has no diplomatic solutions on the horizon, it is sending people out to march toward the border fence and the result is unforeseeable.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said medical personnel would be deployed at potential flash points. Hospitals will also be on alert during the march.