After 70 Years of Repression, Gazans' Great Return March is Modern Exodus
As Israel celebrates seven decades and prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East, the reality in Gaza undercuts that self-image and instead testifies that Israel is a state that is both racist and violent.
GAZA — As the U.S., U.K. and France bomb Syria, claiming to support its people but in reality adding misery to a country that has had more than its fair share of violence, the humanitarian disaster in Gaza is almost completely ignored by the international community. This is because the perpetrator of this seven-decade-long disaster is Apartheid Israel.
Mint Press News
by Miko Peled
April 18, 2018
The Great Return March is a courageous declaration by the people of Gaza that they intend to return to their homes and their land. Equally important, they remind a world that has tried to forget them that they are here — and that they demand what is rightfully theirs from a colonial power that is funded and armed by Western democracies hypocritically decrying humanitarianism in countries they seek to overthrow. Though Palestinians do this at a great cost, they will not be intimidated or held back by the racism, the violence and the lies that are perpetrated by Israel and the mainstream media.
While the murder of unarmed protesters by occupying forces is disturbing, recent events in Gaza are just the latest attack against the nearly 2 million Palestinians living in the Strip. The decades-long blockade imposed by Israel has turned Gaza into the world's largest ghetto and open-air prison, creating one of the most dire humanitarian crises in the world.
The Gaza Strip is a stretch of land that extends along the southern 25 miles of the coast of Palestine, starting in the north, south of Askelan, and ending in the south by the city of Rafah, bordering the Sinai Peninsula. All told, the Gaza Strip encompases about 140 square miles.
To further understand the plight of the Palestinians of Gaza, it's important to recognize the horrific history of its creation by the state of Israel. Although it has no obvious natural boundaries, the Gaza Strip was set aside and designated to imprison refugees who were forced to leave their homes and their land in the southern part of Palestine.
Establishment and history of Gaza
The boundaries of the Gaza Strip were finalized in the Rhodes agreement of 1949, a cease-fire pact between the newly established state of Israel, which had taken over Palestine, and its Arab neighbors. Although the Gaza Strip is part of Palestine according to the agreement, it was decided that it would be administered by Egypt. There is yet to be any research as to why the Egyptians agreed to this arrangement, as they had never sought control over any part of Palestine, and they did not occupy or annex the Gaza Strip.
Between November 1956 and April of 1957 Israel had occupied the Gaza Strip. This was a result of the Sinai Campaign, a war in which Israel, the U.K. and France advanced against Egypt and which ended with Israel occupying the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip for about six months. The whole thing ended rather quickly and the land occupied by Israel, including the Gaza Strip was returned to Egyptian control. In 1967, during the war that Israel initiated in June of that year, the Israeli military decided to take the Gaza Strip again, and Israel has kept it and controlled it since. And yet, even though Israel has occupied and controlled the Gaza Strip since 1967, even though its military enters the area at will and all life there is controlled by the Israeli government, it still claims that the boundary that separates the people of Gaza from the rest of occupied Palestine is an international border. Furthermore Israel claims that any crossing of that border that is not authorized by the State of Israel is considered a violation of Israeli sovereignty.
The first Israeli incursions into the Gaza Strip took place shortly after it was created and handed over to Egypt. These incursions were declared by Israel to be punitive measures designed to end what Israel called "infiltration" by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Attempts by Palestinian refugees to re-enter their lands, and the occasional acts of armed resistance by Fedayeen from Gaza, were exploited by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his Army Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan as an excuse to initiate attacks against Palestinian refugees and eventually to mount the Sinai Campaign that resulted in the occupation of the Gaza Strip.
It was during the first half of the 1950's that Ariel Sharon, who 50 years later became Israel's prime minister — gained his reputation as a butcher of Palestinians. The so-called commando unit he commanded, Unit 101, was charged with the responsibility to exact severe punishment through violent raids that left civilians dead. According to an article by Palestinian scholar Nur Masalha, thousands of Palestinians were killed between 1949 and 1956, mostly as a result of their attempted "infiltration" back to their own land.
Exodus: The Gaza prison and the Great Return March
The Gaza Strip and the fences and walls that enclose it were created to ensure that the refugees within it cannot leave and will not be able return to their homes and their land. Now, however, with the Great Return March, the people of Gaza declared their intent to march back to their homes and their land. And, perhaps equally important, they remind a world that has tried to forget them that they are here and demand what is rightfully theirs.
It was because of massacres and mass expulsions like the ones that took place in Yafa, Ramle and Lydd, and in towns and villages all over Palestine, that the Zionist forces were able to empty Palestine of so many of its indigenous people. Those who somehow survived what could only be described as ethnic cleansing and genocide were driven to camps within the Gaza Strip and elsewhere, locked up, forgotten by the world, and left to die or to live on United Nations rations.
"They are all paid by Hamas, they are all connected to Hamas," Israel's Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman stated in an interview, referring to the countless thousands of Palestinians participating in the Great Return March. One might think that, if it weren't for Hamas, Palestinians would not know that they are refugees and that their homes are just beyond the walls that imprison them. During the same infamous radio interview, Lieberman also claimed that there are no innocent people in Gaza, which means that he views the over one million children living in the Gaza Strip as guilty of crimes and deserving punishment.
Even before the minister of defense made this statement, Israel had come up with a public-relations formula that expressed that very same idea and allowed it to justify its regular, methodical killing of Palestinians. This formula is simple, so simple in fact that it is hard to believe it works: the Israeli military drops tons of bombs from the air, tanks and artillery fire mortars into homes, or infantry soldiers shoot civilians, and then the state of Israel claims that the targets were "terrorists."
Even though Palestinians have never had as much as a tank, not to say a war plane or a regular military force, they are blamed for their own deaths at the hands of Israel. Neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian organization has been the problem. Palestinian resistance organizations are the response to the problem. Palestinian resistance organizations were established to resist Israeli occupation, oppression, genocide, ethnic cleansing and racist laws, of which Palestinians are victims. Defense Minister Lieberman, relatively a newcomer to the country who still has a heavy Moldovan/Russian accent, tells Palestinians they may not return or even protest.
As Israel celebrates seven decades and prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East, the reality in Gaza undercuts that self-image and instead testifies that Israel is a state that is both racist and violent. One claim that Lieberman made in his interview was true: with few exceptions, among Israelis there is wall-to-wall support of the army's actions. One wonders how long it will take before the rest of the world wakes up and takes action to end the racism and violence to which Israelis subjects Palestinians and before the world acts so that the people of Gaza may be free to go home.
Miko Peled is a human rights activist, writer and speaker born in Jerusalem. He is the author of "The General's Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine," and an upcoming book, "Injustice, The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five."
Peled currently lives in Washington, DC and is a member of the DC Statehood Green Party.