Gazans plan ‘peaceful resistance’ tent protest near Israel border

Organizers hope six-week action to urge ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees will attract hundreds of thousands

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Thousands of Arab Israelis join a protest on May 12, 2016, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. ( Dov Lieber)
Thousands of Arab Israelis join a protest on May 12, 2016, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. ( Dov Lieber)

A group of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip announced plans Wednesday to erect a tent city near the enclave’s border with Israel to protest Israel’s refusal to grant Palestinian refugees and their descendants a full “right of return” — permission to live in Israel.

The group wants hundreds of thousands of Gazans, including families, to come join the tent city “at the nearest, safe point from the border” with Israel, the Reuters news agency reported Wednesday.

That border is the site of frequent violent flare-ups between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops.

The protest organizers said their demonstration would be non-violent and “endorse peaceful resistance as a new way to win our rights, foremost the right of return” of refugees to what is now Israel.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers near the border fence east of Gaza City on December 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

The six-week protest is scheduled to start on March 30, marked by Palestinians each year as Land Day to commemorate six Arab Israelis who were shot dead by Israeli police and troops during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab land in Galilee.

It will end on May 15 — the day after Israeli Independence Day, which the Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe, marking the displacement of thousands of Palestinians as the result of Israel’s creation in 1948.

Organizers said the project was supported by several Palestinian factions, including Gaza’s ruling Hamas, a terrorist group which is dedicated to Israel’s destruction, but that none would be present at the protest. The United Nations would be notified, they said.

Of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when the country was established, a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands are still believed to be alive. But their descendants, considered refugees under the unique designation afforded by the UN to Palestinians, number in the millions.

Israel has for years demanded that the UN change its designation of Palestinian refugees, and that it use the same criteria it applies for other refugee populations worldwide among which descendants of original refugees are not counted as refugees.

Palestinians wave flags on May 15, 2016 in Gaza City during a Nakba Day rally. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

In previous rounds of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter have sought a “right of return” to Israel for these millions. No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s general position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

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