Gaza’s weekly protests suspended for 3 months

‘Decision linked to ceasefire deal with Israel, fatigue.’

people carry flags and signs during a Freedom March rally on October 6 against  (photo credit: REUTERS)
people carry flags and signs during a Freedom March rally on October 6 against
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The organizers of the "Great March of Return," the weekly demonstrations near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, decided on Thursday to suspend the protests until the end of March 2020.
The decision, which goes into effect January 3, is seen by some Palestinians as the beginning of the end of the protests, first launched in March 2018 by several Palestinian factions, including Hamas.
According to unconfirmed reports, at least 348 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with the IDF since the start of the demonstrations.
Palestinian political analysts said they believe the decision, announced by the “Higher National Commission of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Gaza Siege,” was evidently linked to a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas under the auspices of Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.
In the past two months, the commission called off the weekly protests at least three times on the pretext that it did not want to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an excuse to launch a major military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Such a move would divert attention from his indictment for bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
Yusri Darwish, a representative of the commission organizing the protests, said during a press conference in the Gaza Strip that when the demonstrations resume on March 30, 2020, the protests will take place on a monthly, rather than weekly, basis. According to Darwish, the protests will also only take place on “prominent national occasions.”
March 30 is marked by Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel as Land Day in commemoration of the Arabs who were killed and injured in clashes with Israeli forces in 1976. The violence erupted after the Israeli government’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of land for state purposes in the Galilee.
Darwish urged Palestinians to participate in what will likely be this year’s last protest, slated for Friday. The demonstration will be held under the banner: “The blood of the martyrs draws the path to freedom.”
The Great March of Return will afterwards be suspended during the period between January 3 to March 30, Darwish and other commission officials said. They said the organizers of the protests plan to take advantage of the three-month lull to “prepare for the big and historic day – Land Day – on March 30 next year.”
In a statement, the commission called for mass protests in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip on that day, and encouraged Arab communities in Israel to take part.
The commission stated that the protests near the border with Israel would “continue to preserve their peaceful and popular character.” The weekly protests, the commission said, have sent a powerful and clear message that the targeting of our people won’t pass without punishment by the Palestinians and the international community.
“Thursday’s announcement is an admission of failure,” a Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post. “The protests failed to achieve their two declared goals: ending the blockade on the Gaza Strip and achieving the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel. I doubt if the demonstrations will ever resume. The Great March of Return has ended, and now the debate will begin whether it was a success or failure.”
A Palestinian human rights activist in the Gaza Strip told the Post that “fatigue” was also behind the decision to suspend the weekly protests. “People are tired, and the organizers know that very well,” the activist said. “In recent months we’ve seen a significant decrease in the number of people participating in the Friday demonstrations. Many people are tired because they haven’t seen anything good come out of their sacrifices.”
Palestinian political analysts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said they were convinced that the move was the result of “external pressure” on Hamas leaders.
They pointed out that senior Hamas officials who recently visited Egypt and Qatar came under heavy pressure to halt the protests “so as not to give Israel an excuse to launch a major military operation” into the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas has submitted to Egyptian and Qatari pressure,” said Emad Madhoun, a political analyst from the southern Gaza Strip. “The Egyptians promised to ease restrictions imposed on travelers and goods, while Qatar announced last week that it will continue to deliver cash grants to the Gaza Strip at least until the end of March 2020. This shows you that there’s been real progress in mediation efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian groups.”
Another political analyst in the West Bank pointed out that Thursday’s announcement concerning the suspension of the protests was “directly linked” to Qatar’s decision to continue delivering millions of dollars to the Gaza Strip. “Obviously, we are talking about a deal,” he told the Post. “Three months of Qatari dollars in return for three months of calm on the border with Israel – this is not necessarily bad for the people in the Gaza Strip or for Hamas.”
Sources in the Gaza Strip said that at least one Palestinian faction, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which was part of the commission behind the protests, rejected the decision to halt the weekly demonstrations. DFLP officials called for their continuation despite Thursday’s announcement, arguing that they were needed to foil US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century,” and to force Israel into lifting the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.