The protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel will continue until they achieve their goals and the Palestinians return to all of Palestine, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed on Monday.
Hamas, he said, will not recognize Israel and will not make any concessions. He added that the demonstrations, in which the Palestinians say at least 30 Gazans have been killed, have catapulted the Palestinian issue back to the center of the international stage.
“Palestine and Jerusalem belong to us,” Haniyeh declared, urging Palestinians to preserve the “peacefulness” of the protests. “We will break the walls of the blockade, remove the occupation entity and return to all of Palestine.”
He was standing in front of a billboard with pictures of pacifist icons Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, with quotes from them on marching to freedom.
Haniyeh was speaking during a ceremony to inaugurate the “Monument of Return,” east of Gaza City.
Haniyeh said that “although we are in the second week of the March of Return, this peaceful, civilized, and popular march has achieved important goals, and we are still in the beginning.”
These demonstrations, he added, “will continue day after day and Friday after Friday until May 15.”
Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.
Palestinian activists have insisted the protests are civilian-led and nonviolent, while Israel has said they have been used as cover for attempts at violence against Israeli troops and efforts to breach and damage the border. Defense analysts say the marches are a new tactic by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to conduct terror operations in the confusion of the demonstrations, as the group’s rockets have been thwarted by Israel’s Iron Dome and its tunnels have been countered with a new underground barrier being constructed around Gaza.
An Islamist terror group, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.
The “March of Return,” Haniyeh explained, has brought the Palestinian cause “back to square one: a political cause of a displaced people on whose land an illegitimate state was established and a cause of a people seeking independence and the right to return to their land.”
According to Haniyeh, the protests have so far thwarted US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East and his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The mass demonstrations, he argued, have brought the Palestinian cause back to the world’s attention, “after some tried to bury it through suspicious deals, and reduce it to an issue of bread and electricity.”
The protests are an uprising for “Jerusalem, Palestine, and the right of return,” he said, referring to the demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their former homes in Israel.
The Palestinians, Haniyeh said, are waging a “battle for national independence and against racial separation and discrimination. Our people are entitled to dream, and the right of return will be fulfilled. We will return to our Jerusalem and our villages. All our people will return to this blessed land.”
Haniyeh said that the “March of Return” was in its beginning and will continue, “marking the start of a new phase that has closed the page of humiliation and security coordination.”
He was referring to the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in the West Bank, which Hamas and other Palestinians have long condemned as a form of treason.
The Hamas leader lashed out at PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who on Sunday threatened that the PA would no longer be responsible for what happens in the Gaza Strip, if the terror group does not relinquish control over the coastal enclave.
“Gaza will not abandon the West Bank and Jerusalem, and will not give up all the land of Palestine,” he said, referring to Abbas’s threat.
“Those who have become accustomed to making concessions can’t apprehend the logic of holding on to principles. They hoped to see thousands of Palestinians come out against Hamas and the resistance in the Gaza Strip, but the youths of Gaza and its factions know who is besieging them and conspiring against them.”
On Friday, the Palestinian UN ambassador told reporters in New York that nine Gazans were killed and over 1,000 injured by Israeli fire at the border protests. The IDF, which did not confirm the figures, said it thwarted multiple efforts to breach the border fence — and that it used live fire to do so in some instances — as well as attempts to activate bombs against the troops under the cover of smoke.
“Rioters have attempted to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of smoke from their burning tires. They also attempted to carry out terror attacks and hurl explosive devices and firebombs,” the IDF said on Friday evening. “Our forces prevented breaches” of the fence.
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 has generally been 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.