On March 30 tens of thousands of Palestinians were met with Israeli sniper fire, drones, gas and other weapons as they marched towards the Israeli border. The Great March of Return created an encampment more than 500 meters from the fence, well outside of the 300 meter no-go zone enforced by Israel.
None the less, the Israelis attacked. The march, organized by a coalition of grass roots groups in Gaza, responded with non-violent resistance, and in some cases with rocks or Molotov cocktails, according to the Israelis, who also claimed that Hamas had organized the march as cover for attacks. No Israeli soldier was injured that day. Fifteen Palestinians were killed, and thousands were wounded. The day before the March, Israeli forces killed a local farmer with artillery fire. During the following week several other people were killed, and many others wounded.
Thousands remained in the encampments, and each Friday, additional thousands would join the protest. April 6 was called the “Day of the Tire” because protesters set tires on fire to create a thick black smoke that would prevent snipers from being able to see their targets. Nine Palestinians were killed that day, and over 1000 were wounded. A 30-year old Palestinian journalist, Yaser Murtaja, was killed, despite wearing a jacket labeled press. Several other journalists were wounded. Israel condemned the smoke as an environmental threat.
The continual protests built to May 14, the day the US officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem, and the seventieth anniversary of the declaration of the state of Israel. On May 14, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters assembled, and the Israeli troops opened fire. At the end of the day, at least 60 Palestinians were dead. Among those killed and injured by snipers were people clearly identified as medics who was trying to help the wounded. It is estimated that during the six weeks of protest, over 20,000 Palestinians were wounded. On June 1, a nurse, clearly identified as a medic was killed by a sniper. Reportedly one Israeli soldier sustained minor wounds from a thrown rock.
The March declared May 15 to be a day of mourning in Gaza. May 15 is also the day on which the Nakba (catastrophe) is commemorated. It refers to the campaign of terror conducted by zionist paramilitary groups including the Irgun, Haganah, and Lehi, prior to and immediately after the establishment of Israel in 1948. According to Al Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, during the Nakba period Israeli forces killed an estimated 13,000 Palestinians and forcibly evicted 737,166 Palestinians from their homes and land. Five hundred and thirty-one Palestinian villages were entirely depopulated and destroyed. These original refugees and their descendants, now 7 million people, have never been allowed to return. 4.3 million are registered for humanitarian assistance by the UN. Additional refugees were created by the 1967 occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. More Palestinians have been displaced over the years by the building of Israeli settlements, home demolitions, the construction of the border wall in the West Bank, and other land grabs.
Following the establishment of the 1967 occupation, 21 settlements were constructed for about 9,000 Israelis. In 2005, unable to stop the ongoing Palestinian resistance, Israel moved settlers from Gaza, announcing that it had “withdrawn.” Although the Palestinian Authority was supposed to have control of Gaza, in 2007, Israel established a strangling blockade of Gaza, which has created an open-air prison (particularly open air since Israeli bombardments have destroyed thousands of buildings). The land border with Egypt is mostly closed, as is the land border with Israel. Israel blockades the sea and the air. In Gaza there are continued critical shortages of medical supplies, food, fuel for electricity, building materials, and pretty much everything else. Oxfam international estimates that over 1000 people in Gaza have died as a result of the blockade. As we write this, the protests, and Israeli killings, continue at the site near the border.
There have been international actions in solidarity with Gaza throughout this period, including in San Francisco where several emergency demonstrations were held in March and April. The Palestine Action Network (PAN) organized a series of events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (Nakba 70) and support for Gaza. On Saturday, May 12, over 150 people attended a cultural event, 70 Years of Palestinian Resistance and Resilience. On May 15, several hundred people rallied in front of the Israeli consulate and then marched to the federal building. On May 16, when former prime minister Ehud Barak was scheduled to speak at the Jewish Community Center, over 150 demonstrated outside while over 20 people disrupted the speech inside, resulting in 18 arrests. Kate, Deni and Matthew from QUIT! were among the arrested.
A Win at SF School Board
On May 22, the SF Bored of Ed approved, after a 3-year delay, a memorandum of understanding with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) for the Arabic Language Pathways, a struggle which QUIT! and Gay Shame have been supporting. Once again, the “Jewish Community Relations Council” lobbied the bored to turn down the MOU, as they had for the past 3 years. Aware of the likely approval, the JCRC turned out a small group to allege that AROC was a hate group, or a terrorist group, or both. Fortunately, the over 60 people from dozens of community groups who had turned out for the previous meeting to demand the MOU be placed on the agenda and approved, also turned out for this meeting. At the meeting. Jewish Voice for Peace condemned the JCRC as racist, and pointed out that they don’t speak for all Jews. Deeg spoke for QUIT!:
“Almost 30 years ago I participated as part of ACT-UP and other queer organizations when we asked the school board to create a district wide program to support LGBTQ students. It was important to us then, as it is now, to have community organizations participate with the school district to develop and implement relevant programming.
“This experience informed the decision by groups in the LGBTQ communities, including QUIT!, LAGAI, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, and Gay Shame to support the Board’s resolution three years ago to develop an Arabic language Pathway, that included the involvement of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC). AROC for many years has been going into the schools to support Arab students, and, as part of that work, has been supporting LGBTQ students of all ethnicities. I am Jewish, but this isn’t about Jews and Arabs, it’s about how the district will support Arab students. It should not have taken three years, but we commend the district for finally bringing this MOU to the Board, and we strongly urge the Board to adopt it.”