Hanin Alyan Elholy | 08-06-2018
Gaza’s Great Return March, the massive protest along its border with Israel that launched March 30, has ignited a Great Debate about the nature and future of Palestinian resistance.
I am deeply proud of the Great Return March for several reasons: Despite claims by Israelis that we are human puppets controlled by Hamas, the truth is that the protest is organized by a diverse committee representing all factions and sectors of society, and participants who attend frequently organize their own activities. The Palestinian flag flies everywhere, in Gaza and the many solidarity events abroad. The “march” has become one of the few events where a Palestinian can witness the beauty of connectedness and unity after years of division among our political parties.
The blooming of Gazans' patriotic spirit pleases my gloomy soul. I hadn’t expected that humans living under such inhumane conditions for more than 11 years could launch such a heroic protest. I was afraid that the basics of survival had become Gazans’ only priority, with the need to look for a job and obtain enough food for our families crowding out traditionally core issues such as the right of return to our ancestral homeland. I had begun to think that Israel had succeeded in gradually exerting control over our minds as well as our bodies.
But the march has given me a more promising outlook. The sight of the elderly, women, children and youth of Gaza turning out at the protest every Friday no matter what the danger, and the support of people from various countries around the world, has watered my dying hope tree.
Still, when I hear the news of each additional death I feel like I am exploding inside. Everywhere I turn, I see the news of the latest martyr: Facebook posts, Instagram photos and WhatsApp videos. The feeling of helplessness is paralyzing. It seems that the purest souls are the ones who are killed first, while those who enjoy oppressing us from the safety of their watch towers and sand berms still live. Battling Israel is like fighting a virus that has invaded our body: Getting rid of it requires the sacrifice of innocent red cells along with white “fighter” ones.
Is return a right with reach?
Why do we do all of this? An American friend asked about my expectations for the Great Return March and here is part of our conversation:
She: What does the right of return look like?
Me: It's a basic Palestinian right that can't be taken away. The crime of 1948 will live on as long as refugees are scattered around the world. We need to return to our original villages.
She: But Jews live there now. What would happen to them?
Me: They should return to their original lands too.
She: But they do not have their original land anymore. You cannot make them homeless. A wrong does not make a right.
My eyebrows drew together tightly and I opened my mouth, trying to breathe deeply. It felt like there was not enough air in the universe for me to breathe. Her argument was logical, but I did not know what to say. Instead, several questions crowded into my mind. So, returning to our homeland would make the Israelis poor and homeless. But we already are poor and homeless because of them. I know it is their grandparents who kicked us out and that today's Israelis were born there, so it is not their fault. But it's not our fault either. We were born refugees. Should they continue benefitting from the crimes committed by their ancestors?
No one but us appears to care about these questions. It seems to be considered normal for the weak to be blamed, whipped and even killed for the crimes committed by the strong. The “democratic" world’s double standards allowed and even facilitated the passage of the Balfour Declaration, the Nakba, the Naksa, three bloody Zionist attacks on Gaza and an oppressive blockade. It's the "fair" world that stood by while the U.S. government celebrated the transfer of its embassy to the city we long have considered our capital, while every street of Gaza was the site of a funeral. It's the "just" world that permitted Israel to try out its new weapons on our peaceful protestors. Were Gazans born to be punished and killed if we protest or speak up? Why are we considered terrorists when we demand the rights protected by international law?
How alone we Palestinians are! Arabs and Muslims around the world should be coming to our aid, and yet they do nothing. We Palestinians have tried so many ways to find a solution and still we search. During the previous three Israeli wars on Gaza, we resisted with what force we had; it’s a natural reaction of all oppressed people and our legal right. For that, we were called terrorists. For years, we also have tried negotiating with Israel, primarily through Fatah. But the endless talks produced nothing positive, only more losses. The Great Return March is a third approach, collective nonviolence in the face of brutality. Will this make any difference?
I really don’t know. I am certain of nothing except the inevitability of our freedom sooner or later.
Posted: June 8, 2018
Mentor: Pam Bailey