Ahmed Abu Artema on the Palestinian Great March of Return

“The only possible option for them is to continue knocking on the walls of their prison with the hope that the world will hear them.”


Ahmed Abu Artema has organized the Great March of Return in protest of Israel’s blockade on Gaza. (Hosney Salah)

Esty Dinur, The Progressive, April 11, 2019

Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian writer and activist. A resident of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, his family was expelled from its home in the Ramle district in 1948. A follower of nonviolent resistance, he is one of the main organizers of the Great March of Return, which has taken place every Friday for more than a year at the separation wall with Israel. A heavy-handed Israeli response has caused hundreds of Palestinian deaths and many more people injured.

A slight man with sad eyes, married and father of four, Abu Atrema was the featured speaker in a nationwide tour in March organized by the American Friends Service Committee and titled “Hashtag to Headlines: How the Gaza Great March of Return Challenged the World.”

I interviewed him recently for my radio show in Madison, Wisconsin, and followed up with emailed questions, which were translated from Arabic by Jehad Abusalim.

Q: What is the Great March of Return about?

Ahmed Abu Artema: The Great March of Return represents the clearest expression of the will of the displaced Palestinian refugees: They want to go home. In 1948, Zionist militias expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their cities and villages to pave the way for the establishment of the state of Israel. These forces believed that, with time, the refugees would adapt to the reality of refugeehood and would forget their homeland.

But the message of the Great March of Return clearly says that the Right of Return is to be negotiated, and that new generations of refugees who were born in the refugee camps in exile still adhere to their inalienable right to return to their homes and property.

Q: How did the march come into being and what has happened since?

Artema: A group of friends and I called for the March of Return twice. The first time was on May 15, 2011, when the call then was met by wide reaction. Thousands of Palestinians gathered near the boundaries of historic Palestine in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and near the green line in the West Bank and Gaza. That was the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the Catastrophe [the term used by Palestinians to describe their mass expulsion and the destruction of their society in 1948].

The second time we called for a march of return was in early 2018, when I proposed organizing a mass and peaceful march by the people of the Gaza Strip, to put an end to the blockade there—which has meant a slow death for us—and to call for the implementation of U.N, General Assembly Resolution 194, regarding Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their original homes.

The idea turned into a broad movement in the Palestinian society in Gaza, and it was adopted and promoted by various political and social groups. This led to the creation of an executive committee that represented all these forces, which took on itself to organize the practical steps of the demonstrations.

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April 22, 2019
71 Years Without a Country

The 2019 North America Nakba Tour comes to Madison

UW-Madison Red Gym, On Wisconsin room
716 Langdon St
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Mariam Fathalla was just 18 years old in 1948 when her 4,000 year old village was leveled and she was forced to flee Palestine along with hundreds of thousands of others to make way for the establishment of the State of Israel. For the past 71 years she has lived in crowded, makeshift refugee camps in Lebanon. Now an 89-year-old great-grandmother, she has seen five Israeli invasions of Lebanon, as well as the 1976 Tel al-Zaatar massacre that killed more than 2000 refugees.

Don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to hear Mariam’s eye-witness story and learn the true story of the event that Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe). She will be joined by 24-year-old Palestinian journalist and translator Amena ElAskhar, herself the great-granddaughter of Nakba survivors.

Co-sponsored by Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, and WUD Society and Politics. Welcomed by WORT Radio.



Amena ElAshkar will be a guest on WORT Radio’s Morning Buzz with host Jan Miyasaki on Wednesday, April 17 between 8 and 8:30 am. Tune in at 89.9 FM or listen live online.

Amena ElAshkar will be a guest on WORT Radio’s A Public Affair with host Esty Dinur on Friday, April 19 from 12:40 to 1:00 pm. Tune in at 89.9 FM or listen live online.


More Information

First Anniversary of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege

Israeli Forces Kill 3 Palestinian Civilians and Wound 364

Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Ref: 50/2019, March 30, 2019

On Saturday, 30 March 2019, in excessive use of force against the peaceful protesters in the 1st anniversary of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege, Israeli forces killed 3 Palestinian civilians, including a child, and wounded 364 others, including 74 children, 12 women, 7 journalists, and 6 paramedics. The injury of seven of them was reported serious.

It should be mentioned that before the protests started today, the Israeli forces deployed military reinforcements along the border fence with the Gaza Strip, and set up more fortified sniper positions. This indicates an Israeli intention to use excessive force against the demonstrators.

Israeli media reported that the Israeli forces had deployed three military brigades and an artillery battalion, and announced the deployment of 200 snipers along the border with the Gaza Strip. This is reminiscent of similar preparations on the eve of the outbreak of Return March a year ago, preceded with systematic incitement by the Israeli political and military echelons and giving direct orders to target the peaceful demonstrators, especially those who were described as “inciters.”

The Israeli military reinforcements came despite the prior declaration of the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege that the demonstrations will be peaceful. On Thursday, the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege confirmed in a press conference the peaceful and popular nature of all activities in the Earth Day demonstrations in order to block the Israeli authorities’ plans, which intend to shed the blood of peaceful demonstrators.

According to observations by PCHR’s fieldworkers, the Israeli forces who stationed in prone positions and in military jeeps along the fence with Israel continued to use excessive force against the demonstrators by opening fire and firing teargas canisters at them. As a result, dozens of the demonstrators were hit with bullets and teargas canisters without posing any imminent threat or danger to the life of soldiers.

Moreover, PCHR’s fieldworkers said that the Israeli forces increased the sniper-positioning points and raised the sand berms on which the snipers position, enabling them to see clearly and completely the area ,where the protestors spread, and deep into the Return encampment.

PCHR’s fieldworkers monitored the deployment of hundreds of police officers to control the demonstrations and prevent the demonstrators from approaching the border fence. The demonstrations were as always fully peaceful and some protesters in very limited cases approached the border fence and attempted to threw stones at the fence.

On Saturday, 30 March 2019, the incidents were as follows:

At approximately 07:00, Israeli forces opened fire at a group of Palestinian young men who approached the border fence, adjacent to the Return camp in eastern Gaza Strip. As a result, Mohamed Jehad Jawdat Sa’d (20), from al-Shuja’iyia neighborhood, was hit with a live bullet to the chest and his death was declared after half an hour of his arrival at al-Shifa Hospital. It should be noted that Mohamed died before the actual start of the demonstrations to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the Great March of Return and Breaking and the 43rd anniversary of the Earth Day, which the Supreme National Commission has called “the millions of land and return.”

At early hours, hundreds of civilians, including women, children and entire families, started swarming to the five encampments established by the Supreme National Authority of Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege adjacent to the border fence with Israel in eastern Gaza Strip cities. Hundreds, including children and women, approached the border fence with Israel in front of each encampment while hundreds of civil members and police officers deployed along the border fence to prevent the protesters from approaching the fence. Dozens of protesters managed to approach the border fence and attempted to throw stones at the Israeli forces.Although the demonstrators gathered in areas open to the Israeli snipers stationed on the top of the sand berms and military watchtowers and inside and behind the military jeeps, the Israeli forces fired live and rubber bullets in addition to a barrage of teargas canisters.

The Israeli shooting, which continued at around 18:00, resulted in the killing of two civilians identified as:

1- Adham Nedal Saqer ‘Amarah (17), from Gaza City, who was hit with a tear gas canister to the face in eastern Gaza City, and his death was declared at approximately 15:15.

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1st Year Anniversary of the Great March of Return

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, March 28, 2019

On Friday 30 March 2018, the commemoration of Land Day, Palestinians launched a massive wave of peaceful weekly demonstrations known as the Great Return March along the security fence separating Gaza from Israel. The demonstrations call for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes lost in the 1967, as enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194, and the lifting of the blockade imposed on Gaza Strip by Israel for over a decade. The demonstrations, which were initially planned to be held for six weeks, have continued every Friday since then (51 weeks). All segments of society have participated in the demonstrations including youth, children, women, people with disabilities and elderly.

The Great Return March demonstrations are seen by many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as a way to vent their continued deprivation from the worsening humanitarian and economic situation caused mainly by the 12-year-long suffocating Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The blockade, which severely restricted freedom of people and goods, has devastated Gaza’s economy, caused widespread destruction and separated its citizens from the rest of the world. Today, the Strip is suffering from widespread poverty, high unemployment to lack of opportunities, especially among the youth, and collapsing public services such as health care, water, and sanitation. The United Nations has warned that Gaza would become “unlivable” by 2020.

Question and Answer: 1st Year Anniversary of the March of Return Demonstrations

Will Christchurch be our wakeup call??

Many of those killed in the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack were, in fact, Palestinians. Rifat Audeh is a Palestinian-Canadian who participated in the Freedom Flotilla when the activists on the Mavi Marmara were murdered; he later produced a documentary about that experience: The Truth: LOST AT SEA.

Rifat Audeh, Scoop Media, 19 March 2019

Yesterday I met my cousin, although he was killed in cold blood a few days ago, at the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand. I “met” him upon visiting his aunt’s house and learnt much more about this ambitious 33-year-old whose life was cut so short.

While my cousin Atta Elayyan lived in Kuwait and later New Zealand, I was living in Jordan and North America, and we never crossed paths. During my visit, I heard about how kind and supportive he was to his family, how intelligent and ambitious he was as a tech entrepreneur establishing his own company, and how energetic and athletic he was as a member of New Zealand’s national futsal team. His father, Mohammed Elayyan, who founded the Alnoor Mosque in Christchurch, was also injured in the shooting. I struggled to hold back my tears as I saw a video of Atta’s father speaking from his hospital bed about Islam being a religion of love and the need to love one another. Mohammed had spearheaded efforts to assist the local community during the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, providing food and shelter in the mosque to many.

These past couple of days, I’ve been reading news items addressing this terror attack, including reports analysing how the media disproportionately blames terror attacks globally on Muslims. This propaganda is effectively brainwashing many, and increasing hate and distrust between people. Yet these reports fall short not only in their scope of what they cover but also what they fail to mention. The reports and news items mostly discuss individual terror attacks like the one committed in Christchurch. Yet in many instances they fail to mention several important points.

First, Muslims have been the biggest victims of such attacks globally. One such contrast I remember includes the January 2015 terror attacks in France, which killed 10-20 people. This was followed by a global outcry with dozens of world officials gathering in France and leading a massive march in Paris in protest. Yet in July 2016, a single terrorist attack killed close to 400 people, mostly Muslims, in Baghdad’s Karrada district. For the most part, this barely made a blip on the radar of media globally, with the victims dying silently, since this was once again just one terror attack among hundreds of others against Muslims.

Second, the fact is that many terrorist groups in the world today including ISIS, who have killed so many Muslims as they did in the aforementioned attack, have been created and supported by Western intelligence agencies. Ironically, even the name given to such groups i.e. “Islamic State of…” further divides East and West, giving non-Muslims the illusion that this is being done under the name of Islam itself or with the somehow implicit consent of Muslims.

Third, and perhaps most significantly of all, is the terror perpetrated by various Western governments – notably the USA- and their client puppet states, which continue to kill millions of people globally and throughout history. When looking at individual terrorist attacks like those committed by white supremacists in Christchurch, we must not forget that the wars and oppression waged on places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Palestine and elsewhere, are the epitome and manifestation of terror, practiced against civilian populations. We must never be naïve enough to accept the actions of governments when they attempt to shroud the massacres, wars and terror they perpetrate and perpetuate in a false cloak of legitimacy.

And yet, despite all of this and despite the millions of Muslims who continue to be killed by mostly white Christian men in positions of power, the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims do not hate the West or people from other religions. This sentiment manifested itself clearly when one of the first victims to be killed at the Alnoor mosque greeted the terrorist coming to kill him with words of love saying “Hello brother”.

The attack has backfired on this white supremacist, and the love shown towards the Muslim community has exemplified his failure. My cousin leaves behind his wife and two-year-old daughter. Hopefully, if we all work together hard enough, she can grow up in a world better than ours.

Rifat Audeh is a lifelong human rights activist and award-winning filmmaker. His writings have appeared in various media outlets and he has a Masters degree in Media and Journalism.

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