GAZA CITY: Seven weeks after Palestinians in Gaza began their mass protest against the Israeli occupation, opinion in the strip is divided over whether the deaths of demonstrators was a sacrifice worth making.
Residents in the besieged coastal enclave started their “Great March of Return” on March 30, gathering at the border for a prolonged campaign designed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Jewish state’s creation.
More than 100 Gazans have died during the protests, sparking widespread condemnation from Arab governments and the UN. The worst of the bloodshed came on Monday, when Israeli snipers opened fire on huge crowds of men, women and children, killing 60 people.
Many here regard the protests as a source of national pride and view the victims as martyrs who died for the cause of Palestinian statehood. Others look upon the dead as pawns in a political game being played by both Israel and the dominant political faction in the strip, Hamas.
Ghada Al-Serhi, a 39-year-old mother of two, told Arab News that she had taken part in the weekly demonstrations with her husband and brothers.
“Any people under occupation must suffer until liberation is achieved,” she said. “Yes, there are many victims but should we continue to live under oppression, in a situation that does not meet the minimum standards for a meaningful life? Israel is the occupier. We must face them.”
Monday’s bloodshed came as the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a ceremony attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Israel claimed the killings were carried out in self-defense, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that unarmed civilians had been massacred.
Rami Al-Sharif, a 21-year-old sociology student, told Arab News that he had been peacefully participating in the demonstrations since they began six weeks ago.
“I believe Palestinian rights are worth a lot. What is the value of my studies if I do not find work after graduation? What is the value of my life if it is not a decent life?” he said.
Since 2007, Israel has subjected Gaza to a land, sea and air blockade that has crippled its infrastructure. The blockade, which is backed by Egypt, was imposed as a response to Hamas’ takeover of the strip that year.
The main political factions in Gaza, including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have thrown their support behind the recent protests, and Hamas said that 50 of the 60 people killed on Monday were its members. However, the fatalities also included civilians such as Laila Al-Ghandour — an eight-month-old girl who died from tear gas inhalation.
In the far west of Gaza city this week, the chaos of the eastern border was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, a group of young men sat together drinking coffee and smoking shisha near the sea as the sound of ambulances ferrying the injured to hospitals echoed in the distance.
Among the group was 25-five-year-old Mohammed Al-Riyashi, who told Arab News that he did not support the protests because they are “an easy way for Israel to kill young people.” Like many young men here, Riyashi cannot find regular work despite having a university degree.
“We do not need more wounded and disabled people. We need someone who will save us from the tragic situation in which we live — from the difficult conditions in which we live — not someone who will make life even more difficult and cruel.”
His friend, Samer Shamlakh, agreed and accused Hamas of “exploiting the protests” to distract people from its own failings.
“I went to the border for a few hours out of curiosity once. I did not and will not return. These demonstrations are aimed at favoring one political party and we are looking for Palestinian unity,” he said.