Amid renewed airstrikes, Gaza plans more protests

At the Gaza-Egypt border (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  August 24, 2021

Palestinians in Gaza plan to continue protests this week to bring attention to the ongoing Israeli blockade.

Palestinians plan to continue protests this week, in hopes of rousing focus on the Israeli blockade over Gaza after 24 were wounded over the weekend in a demonstration planned by Hamas. Tensions again climbed today when Israel attacked Gaza in the early morning hours and Palestinians floated balloons fastened with incendiary devices into Israel, a rudimentary weapon use to set fires.

“In response to Hamas’ renewed attacks today, we struck a weapons manufacturing site, rocket launch site & tunnel entrances in Gaza,” the Israel military said today over social media. “We will continue to respond firmly against all terrorist activities from Gaza.”

On Saturday Israeli forces fired live rounds and tear gas, critically wounding a 13-year- old Palestinian boy who was shot in the head, according to Palestinian health officials. At least one Palestinian was filmed firing a pistol towards Israelis soldiers, and one Israeli border police officer was shot in the head and critically wounded. That evening Israel’s military said it fired airstrikes on four “Hamas weapons and storage manufacturing sites.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday, “We will settle accounts with anyone who harms our fighters or Israeli civilians.”

The protest trailed a northern fence that separates Gaza from Israel and was a frequent site for popular demonstrations that began in 2018 known as the Great March of Return. Those marches were independently organized while Saturday’s was called for by Hamas and backed by supporting factions. 

Senior Hamas official Yayha Mousa confirmed Saturday’s activities were not part of reinvigorating the Great March of Return. “Palestinian factions will create new tools for struggle,” he said. “Palestinians in Gaza are facing death, all that they do is push death away from them, this is their struggle.”

Talal Abu Zarifa, a commissioner behind the Great March of Return confirmed the latest protest was not affiliated with the 2018 border protests. He said a second rally would follow on Wednesday in the southern city of Khan Younis, also organized by Hamas and a coalition of Palestinian factions

 “We can’t stand doing nothing while our people are suffering death due to Israeli siege,” he explained. “No calls were made to restart the Great March of Return, but there are different steps the factions planned in order to reach the international community to end the siege on Gaza and intervene on Israeli practices against Palestinians.”

A representative for Saturday’s confrontation, Mahmoud Khalaf, said the event sought to “end the siege of Gaza and bans on the reconstruction process that prevents the people of Gaza from their right to live in freedom.” 

Khalaf indicated the date was selected as a solemn marker on the anniversary of an attempt to burn down the Al-Aqsa Mosque 52 years ago that caused a severe blaze to Islam’s second most holy site. On August 21, 1969, Australian Christian extremist Denis Michael Rohan poured a thermos of kerosene inside the mosque and destroyed an 800-year-old pulpit in order to incite a religious war and bring about the apocalypse. Rohan was initially prosecuted by Israel and later extradited to Australia. The fallout from the incident caused a wave of protests in the region, falsely believed by many to have been caused by Israel. 

Khalaf said Egyptian mediators, who brokered a ceasefire last May between Israel and Hamas after a recent escalation that left 242 Palestinians and 13 in Israel dead, were informed Hamas intends to continue border protests. 

Yesterday, Egyptian officials closed the Rafah checkpoint with Gaza, suspending all passengers through travel for an undetermined period of time. An Egyptian official who spoke to the Associated Press under the condition of anonymity and was not authorized to make a statement said the crossing was shut in response to rising tensions from Saturday’s demonstration. He said Cairo and Gaza had “differences” over a fragile ceasefire signed in last May. 

“This is a devastating development for thousands of people with hopes, dreams, plans, and above all, human rights that must be protected,” said Tania Hary, the executive director of the Israeli human rights group Gisha. “Egypt and Israel must respect the right to freedom of movement.”

Qatari aid to resume in Gaza 

Late last week Qatar said it had reached a deal with Israel, Palestinian leaders, and the United Nations to resume cash transfers to Gaza that were suspended due to the fighting in May. The pause in the aid has been a major source of frustration inside of Gaza.

During the ceasefire discussions, Israel negotiated how the money would be used and enter Gaza. Previously, around $30 million was delivered each month in cash sent through an Israeli checkpoint. The funds supported 100,000 families with disbursements of $100 each month.

An agreement was reached last week where the UN will handle the process of moving the funds from New York, to Ramallah, to Gaza, all under Israeli observation, including oversight of the recipient list. The money transfers will resume in September.

Tareq S. Hajjaj is a freelance journalist and a member of Palestinian Writers Union; He studied English Literature at Al-Azhar University in Gaza