Palestinian demonstrators on a sand plateau during clashes with Israeli forces last Friday east of Gaza City. Residents of Gaza are mounting a series of protests called the Great Return March. (Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Early in the morning on March 30, my 7-year-old son, Ali, saw me preparing to leave the house. This was unusual for our Friday routine.
“Where are you going, Dad?”
“To the border. To participate in the Great Return March.”
The Great Return March is the name that has been given to 45 days of protest along the border between Gaza and Israel. It began on March 30, Land Day, which commemorates the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations, and ends on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 war that lead to the creation of Israel.
“Can I come with you?” Ali pleaded. I told him it was too dangerous. If Israeli military warnings were any indication, the risk that unarmed protesters might be shot by Israeli snipers was too high. “Why are you going if you might get killed?” Ali pressed me.
His question stayed with me as I went to the border encampment in eastern Khan Younis, the southern Gaza town where I live. It remained with me on the following Fridays as I continued to participate in the march activities, and it lingers with me now.
I cherish my life. I am the father of three precious children (Ali has a 4-year-old brother, Karam, and a newborn baby brother, Adam), and I’m married to a woman I consider my soul mate. And my fears were borne out: 39 protesters have been killed since the march began, many by sniper fire, including a 15-year-old last week and two other children on April 6. Israel is refusing to return the bodies of two of those slain.
Thousands more have been injured. Journalists have been targeted; 13 of them have been shot since the protests began, including Yasser Murtaja, a 30-year-old photographer, and 25-year-old Ahmed Abu Hussein, who died Wednesday of his injuries.
So why am I willing to risk my life by joining the Great Return March?
Transporting a wounded Palestinian demonstrator. (Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock)
There are multiple answers to Ali’s question. I fully believe in the march’s tactics of unarmed, direct, civilian-led mass action. I have also been inspired by how the action has unified the Palestinian people in the politically fractured Gaza Strip. And the march is an effective way to highlight the unbearable living conditions facing residents of the Gaza Strip: four hours of electricity a day, the indignity of having our economy and borders under siege, the fear of having our homes shelled.
But the core reason I am participating is that years from now, I want to be able to look Ali, Karam and Adam in the eye and tell them, “Your father was part of this historic, nonviolent struggle for our homeland.”