Hamas: Palestinians will not give up ‘one inch of Palestine’

Mahmoud Zahar warns Israel against targeting participants in ‘peaceful’ March of Return protest along Gaza border

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the border with Israel at Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 23, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
A Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the border with Israel at Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 23, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The Palestinians will not “give up one inch of Palestine” no matter how much time elapses, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior official of the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip declared on Monday.

Zahar also warned Israel against targeting participants in the mass protests that his group and other Palestinian factions are planning in the coming weeks along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The protests will be held under the banner of “March of Return” — a reference to the demand that Israel allow millions of Palestinians refugees and their descendants to return to their former homes inside Israel.

Zahar said that the protests will be “peaceful.” However, he warned that any attempt by Israel to target the protests would be met with an “appropriate response” from Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

The message behind the “March of Return,” he said, was that the Palestinians would never “give up one inch of Palestine even after 70 — 700 — 7,000 years.”

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar speaks on the movement’s Al-Aqsa TV on March 8, 2017. (Screen shot/MEMRI)

The Palestinian “right of return” for refugees and their descendants was based on “historical and religious documents,” Zahar explained without elaborating. He claimed that Israel was “worried” about the planned protests because it “knows that its results will be disastrous.”

Referring to Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system having been mistakenly activated Sunday night, Zahar said: “Nothing can stop the liberation of all Palestine. Even if all the rifles and weapons of the world are gathered in Israel, they will not be able to stop the resistance from achieving its goals.”

Zahar was speaking during a session held by the Palestinian Legislative Council near the border with Israel. Hamas officials said the location of the session was intended to send a message of “defiance” to Israel ahead of the “March of Return,” which is expected to be launched on Friday.

US President Donald Trump signing a proclamation that the US government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, December 6, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

The session was held under the banner “Yes to the Right of Return” and “No to Trump’s Decisions.” The latter refers to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the city. It also refers to Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, which has already been rejected by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Senior Hamas official Ahmed Bahr, who attended the PLC session, said it was being convened near the border with Israel “so that we can reach the 1948 occupied Palestinian lands.”

The session, he added, was also aimed at voicing support for the “March of Return” and the “sacred right of five million Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, from which they were expelled in 1948.”

He said that as part of the protests, Palestinians will set up tents near the border with Israel that symbolize the villages and towns they used to live in before 1948.

Bahr warned that any Palestinian who gives up or compromises on the “right of return” would be committing the “crime of high treason.”

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the 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 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 Arab governments became citizens of Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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