March 21 — Ahmed Abu Artema, from his home in Gaza, sent out a January 2018 Facebook post asking: What would happen if hundreds of thousands of Palestinians marched into the buffer zone fronting the barbed wire and chain link that fences off Gaza at the de facto border with Israel?
March 30 marks one year of Friday marches, Gaza’s Great March of Return, which Abu Artema is credited with having generated. Sometimes numbering in the tens and hundreds of thousands, Palestinian people have streamed toward the fence that separates them from their ancestral homes.
As the anniversary approached, Abu Artema spoke in Atlanta about the inspiration for the historic action. This talk was the last stop of a multiweek U.S. tour organized by the American Friends Service Committee, with local sponsors including Jewish Voice for Peace.
Some 2.2 million Palestinians are imprisoned in Gaza by Egyptian guards on the south, Israeli military on the east and north and an Israeli naval blockade to the west.
Palestinians suffer from shortages of food, electricity and water. They live among bombed-out buildings and destroyed infrastructure. Unemployment is rampant, and poverty is intense. Most are refugees — forced into Gaza by Zionist attacks on their villages in 1948, others by the 1967 Israeli war that seized control of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza itself.
International law affirms their right to return to their land, but Israel responded to the Great March by using live ammunition. Sniper fire killed over 300 Palestinians in 2018, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, including those clearly identified as journalists and medics. More than 26,000 have been injured, with thousands shot in the legs, often requiring amputation, or in the head, suffering life-altering wounds.
Abu Artema was asked by an audience member how Palestinians of all ages continue to march, unarmed, despite the danger. He replied that the Great March represented the collective scream of invisible and discarded people declaring defiantly, “We are here and we will be heard!”