Thousands demand the right to return as smoke envelops Gaza on a new ‘bloody Friday

Etaf Abdel-Aal and her five grandchildren could not find a better place to sit for lunch than under a fruitless olive tree to have some Somaqeyya, a traditional dish in Gaza. They just 500 meters away from the fence dividing Israel and the Gaza Strip where thousands of angry youths were protesting during the second bloody Friday of the Great March of Return.

Etaf Abdel-Aal holding the keys. (Photo: Ahmad Kabariti)

By late evening, the Gaza Health Ministry reported at least ten had been killed and more than 1070 injured by Israeli fire, a week after 18 Palestinians were killed at a similar rally.

Despite thick, acrid black smoke emitted from dozens of burning tires and cross by winds to the other side of the fence, Etaf, 58, decided to move the lunch party to Malaka’s border area. It is the closest point to her family’s original village, al-Muharraqa, 5 kilometers east on the other side of the fence.

“My father says that we had a big farm called the ‘Well’, which was full of olive and fig trees before the Nakba, so being here with my grandchildren gives me a sense of nostalgia. My heartbeat has been accelerated since I sat here at 8:00 a.m.” Etaf, a grandmother of 23 grandchildren, told Mondoweiss while holding two rusty keys of the farm’s gate and her father’s house in al-Muharraqa.

“Grandma promised she would tell us the story about ‘The Beautiful Salma and the Monster’ who lived in al-Muharraqa, after lunch.” Mohammed, 4, told me. He and his sister Rital, 6, were there with cousins from three uncles who were killed in an Israeli bomb attack on a Gaza police station in 2009.

Etaf Abdel-Aal and five grandchildren (Photo: Ahmad Kabariti)

Meanwhile, the whistling of tear gas bombs was heard almost every moment during the 10-hour-long protest. On the other side of the fence, the soldiers perched on the sandy hills along with the drones kept firing dozens of such bombs, while young men rushed to bury them, chanting: “The Palestinians will go to paradise, and the Israelis will go to hell!”

Young Palestinians had been collecting thousands of old tires for a week in the lead up to the peaceful protest which focused on five areas along the eastern border of Gaza. Today they were lucky when the hot winds moved the burning fumes towards the soldiers in an attempt to blur the soldiers’ vision, even though as the Jerusalem Post reported, soldiers brought in a huge fan to disperse the smoke.

If there was a moment of calm it was usually broken by angry cheers and yelling and waving to an ambulance crew to rescue the wounded. There was joyful chanting whenever the overloaded tire cart arrived to the area.

Those tire were gathered in a large hole to burn them batch by batch.

Protesters among the tires during the second Friday of the Great March of Return in Gaza. (Photo: Ahmad Kabariti)

Not far from the two-meter-deep collection of tires, Sherin Nasrallah, 30, was leaning on a tire as her male colleagues were trying to prevent her from getting closer to the soldiers. She angrily screamed back at them: “It is not your damned business! Let me go!”

Sherin, a Fatah activist,wanted to do more than she did last Friday, when she and her friends approached the fence and planted a Palestinian flag.

“At that moment, soldiers fired a tear gas bomb at us, and I spent the whole night in the hospital due to suffocation. So, today, I would burn this tire to burn those Israelis as they burned upon our hearts for 70 years. Today I want to be a martyr.”

Sheren Nasrallah (Photo: Ahmad Kabariti)

The young woman, says that she came here under her own steam. “I don’t suffer any social problems. Yesterday I dreamed that I was sleeping in a white coffin amid white roses. This homeland deserves more than our bodies, and I must return to Beersheba, even spiritually,” She said while was knocking on her tire and trying to ignore her colleagues.

The scene east of Khan Yunis, 35 kilometers from Gaza City, was not so different. Smoke and heat were not obstacles to the angry mass of protesters who sometimes poured water on their heads in preparation for a new round of burning tires.

The demonstration was the second of six planned protests organized by a wide group of civil society organizations and political parties. The rallies are scheduled to continue in a massive effort to demand the Palestinian right of return until May 15, the eve of the date commemorating Israel’s establishment 70 years ago, which Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai, sent a letter to the head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday, urging the body to take a stand against the “ecological disaster” due to the tire smoke.

Mahmoud Kurdish (Photo: Ahmad Kabariti)

Mahmoud Kurdiah, 22, commented on Mordechai’s complaint by saying the Palestinians would also file a complaint that Israel had been firing grenades stuffed with vanilla and Nutella for the last decade. “This is mad, the whole world saw the content of their bombs that burned our bodies, they have to play a more convincing game”.

“The Israelis are afraid of our unity. All the Palestinian parties are working together on this peaceful symbol”. Said Mahmoud, who wrapped in a Palestinian Keffiyeh.

Hamas announced on Thursday it would pay $3,000 to the family of anyone killed in the ongoing Gaza border riots, $500 to Palestinians critically wounded and $200 to those who sustain more minor injuries.

In a statement, the group said it would support the “family of each martyr” with $3,000, while those seriously wounded would receive $500.

The payments were being provided “in light of the difficult economic conditions experienced by our people in the Gaza Strip as a result of the continued Israeli siege.”

In the afternoon, the 26-year-old Mohammed Abu Eida was just arrived at the back of the demonstrations in Khan Younis, holding a pillow to place his right foot which he injured by an explosive bullet during clashes here three months ago.

“I do not care about pain.” Mohammed said. “I sit here to tell them that I will go back to Jaffa with my family. I do not care about the gas bombs and the live fire. These weeks of anger will not calm down even for 100 years.” Mohammed said.

“My grandfather told me that we should return to our land, and we have a map and old documents proving that,” he said. Mohammed’s parents were killed in a helicopter bombardment of their home 10 years ago in the Sabra neighborhood east of the city.

Mohammed Abu Eida (Photo: Ahmad Kabariti)

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.




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