“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.