Friday’s demonstrations mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to all “Palestine,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech at the scene of the mass protests in the Gaza Strip.
“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the right of return only as a slogan,” he said. Haniyeh said that the March of Return was also aimed at sending a message to US President Donald Trump that the Palestinians will not give up their right to Jerusalem and “Palestine.” There is no solution without the right of return, he added.
The Palestinians “will never recognize the Zionist entity and will never give up on Palestinian land, and on Jerusalem; [the city] is ours and there is no solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] without the ‘right of return,'” Haniyeh said, according to a Hebrew translation by the Walla news site.
Haniyeh was speaking during a mass demonstration along the Gaza security fence with Israel, ahead of a planned six-week tent protest. Dubbed the “March of Return,” it coincides with Land Day, when Palestinians commemorate the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed.
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 governments became citizens of Israel.