By Mohamed Majed
GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Scores of Palestinian demonstrators have been killed near the Gaza-Israel buffer zone within the last six months, but the stories of these intrepid protesters — who insist on defying Israel’s decades-long occupation — remain largely unknown.
Men, women, boys, girls: they come from all over the Gaza Strip. One young girl runs from side to side, trying to avoid the deadly hail of Israeli bullets and clouds of teargas.
The trademark black-and-white Palestinian keffieh wrapped around her neck, she advances ever closer to the frontline: the heavily-fortified buffer zone separating blockaded Gaza from Israel.
She finds herself beside a number of other Palestinian protesters — other children like her and several elderly people — all of whom have converged on the buffer zone to express their rejection of the status quo.
Since the demonstrations began on March 30, more than 200 Palestinians have been martyred — and thousands more injured — by Israeli army gunfire.
Protesters demand the right to return to their homes in historical Palestine, from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.
They also demand an end to Israel’s 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave’s economy and deprived its roughly two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.
Frequently at the frontline, Saadiyeh Haniyeh, a 54-year-old Palestinian medic, provides treatment to a young demonstrator suffering from teargas exposure.
“Even though Israeli occupation forces use teargas and bullets against us, we will continue to demonstrate to demand our rights,” Haniyeh told Anadolu Agency.
She went on to urge the international community — especially the Arab states — to take action against Israel’s crippling blockade.
Protester Reda al-Banna, 43, says she will continue to take part in the almost-daily rallies until all the demonstrators’ demands are realized.
“We are participating in these demonstrations as a means of defending our land — and our rights — which the occupation stole from us,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Near the buffer zone’s northernmost segment, one young protester braves the teargas and gunfire with a Palestinian flag wrapped around his face. Carrying a bag full of stones to throw at Israeli soldiers, he gradually approaches the frontline.
But before he gets there, he is clipped by an Israeli bullet and abruptly falls to the ground. With the help of a friend, he is put aboard a Palestinian ambulance and whisked off to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Almost immediately afterward, several more young Palestinian protesters set several tires ablaze near the site where their friend was injured.
Dubbed the “Kushuk Unit”, these young protesters specialize in setting fire to car tires, the thick black smoke from which obscures the vision of Israeli snipers deployed along the other side of the buffer zone.
– Resistance on high seas
The ongoing rallies along the buffer zone have been accompanied by similar protests off Gaza’s coast, where Palestinian activists have staged demonstrations near Gaza’s maritime border with Israel.
One such protest was held on Oct. 8, when more than 20 Palestinian vessels — bearing dozens of activists — approached the maritime border in defiance of the Israeli Navy.
Naval forces eventually opened fire, however, leaving at least 29 activists suffering injuries, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
Israel first imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 after resistance movement Hamas — which supports armed resistance to Israel — swept Palestinian legislative polls.
Israel tightened the blockade the following year (while Egypt, too, sealed its border with Gaza) after Hamas seized the entire strip — which it still holds today — from rival Palestinian faction Fatah.