The High Commission for the Marches of Return names this week’s protest ‘The March is Ongoing’; expert predicts Hamas will keep protesters from approaching the fence
By Adam Rasgon Today, 4:19 pm
The committee responsible for organizing protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip announced on Monday that demonstrations would take place Friday following a significant hiatus.
The High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, canceled the protests in the border area over the last three weeks.
“The High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege calls on the Palestinian masses to participate in large numbers this coming Friday,” the body said in a statement.
It also named this week’s protests “The March is Ongoing.”
Since late March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests along the frontier on most Fridays, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.
The protests have frequently descended into violence, including the hurling of explosives, rocks and firebombs at IDF soldiers, as well as attempts to storm and sabotage the border fence. Israeli troops have often responded with live fire and tear gas. At least 200 Palestinians have been killed at the demonstrations and thousands have been injured.
Israeli officials maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip. They also say that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character.
Last Wednesday, the High Commission said it decided to cancel that week’s protests in light of the “very dangerous security circumstances and the threats of the criminal ‘Netanyahu’ to carry out stupidity by waging a new and comprehensive act of aggression on the Gaza Strip to protect himself from the corruption charges against him.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing an uncertain political future after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced charges on November 21 against him in three corruption cases.
Palestinians gather near the border with Israel in Malaka east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019, as Palestinians mark the first anniversary of the “March of Return” border protests. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, said the High Commission decided to cancel the protests over the last three weeks because the Hamas terror group and other Palestinian factions feared they could lead to a fresh escalation of hostilities with Israel.
“After the latest escalation last month, Islamic Jihad said Israel agreed to not target demonstrators as a part of a ceasefire. For its part, Israel said that is not true and only agreed to quiet for quiet,” he said. “So Hamas and the other factions concluded if the protesters go to the border and Israel shoots and kills some of them, a major deterioration could follow.”
Israel and the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military wing, engaged in a 48-hour flareup in mid-November after the IDF killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander in the terror group. During the escalation in tensions, the Al-Quds Brigades fired some 450 rockets and mortars at the Jewish state, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza.
Unlike previous rounds of fighting, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, stayed on the sidelines.
Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhala told the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV station in mid-November that one of the terror group’s conditions for a ceasefire was Israeli security forces halting the use of fire against protesters in the border region. Netanyahu, however, asserted a few days later that the Israel did not make any promises in exchange for the ceasefire.
Abusada also said that another reason the protests were canceled was because Hamas did not want break an agreement it maintains with Qatar.
“According to understandings with Hamas, Qatar provides approximately $30 million monthly to different programs in Gaza in return for keeping the protests peaceful,” he said. “This was also one of Hamas’s concerns.”
For more than the past year, Qatar has contributed millions of dollars to various projects in Gaza on a monthly basis.
Abusada added that the High Commission decided this week to hold the protests because many of the factions that belong to it did not want “to be seen as giving them up permanently.”
“Hamas is under pressure from these factions,” he said. “They are letting them happen this week, but I think Hamas will do its best to keep protesters away from the fence.”
In the latter half of November, the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper reported that the High Commission was holding a discussion about “rolling back the marches to once a month or during national occasions,” citing a unnamed source in the body.