Few Palestinians expect Israel to heed the UN’s call for maximum restraint, but even the threat of a rising death toll is unlikely to halt further protests in Gaza.
The political horizons for Gaza’s almost 2 million inhabitants are severely constrained by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, a divided leadership, and a lack of concrete action either regionally or internationally toward peace.
Washington has yet to present any detailed peace plan and many Palestinians believe all they can do is try to make sure they are not forgotten amid the carnage caused by other regional conflicts, including Syria and Yemen.
Yehia Abu Daqqa, a 20-year-old student, said he had come to demonstrate and honor those killed in the past. “Yes, there is fear,” he told AP. “We are here to tell the occupation that we are not weak.”
Meanwhile, Hazem Qassem, the Hamas spokesman, emphasized that demonstrations would be peaceful.
“Maintaining the peaceful nature of the protests will strike all fragile Zionist propaganda,” he said.
The “March of Return” protests on the Gaza-Israeli border, organized by a network of Palestinian activists, are intended to draw attention to refugees displaced in 1948 by the creation of Israel. Refugees make up more than 90 percent of Gaza’s population and the protests will culminate on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s birth and a day the Palestinians call the “nakba” or catastrophe.
This year the anniversary will prove especially stark for Palestinians because the administration of President Donald Trump is scheduled to open a US embassy in Jerusalem. Israel annexed East Jerusalem — which the Palestinians want as their capital in a future state — after the 1967 war in a move that is not recognized under international law.
Many Gazans believe they have little to lose. Unemployment is around 50 percent, health care is meager and the blockade has turned the territory into an open-air prison.
A decade of Hamas rule has failed to improve the lives of ordinary Gazans. The divide between Hamas and the Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas has worsened, while the Palestinian president has found himself marginalized by Washington in spite of his previous overtures.
The humanitarian situation is set to deteriorate even further as Trump withholds aid payments to the Palestinians, accusing them of unwillingness to discuss peace with Israel. The US is by far the largest donor to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency).
Many Gazans barely remember a brief window of hope in 2005 when Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the territory. For a short time, there was talk of economic regeneration backed by the World Bank and other organizations.
All that faded, particularly after Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 and the international community backed Israel by refusing any contact with the Islamist organization.
Israel and Hamas militants have fought three wars since 2008. With Washington’s apparent abandonment of a two-state solution that would be acceptable to most Palestinians, another war cannot be ruled out.