Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / September 19, 2023
Palestinians in Gaza are finding their way back to the border fence separating them from their homeland. They are responding to calls from a group of Return March veterans known as “the Revolutionary Youth.”
This time of year usually sees a seasonal rise in political tensions in Palestine. The Jewish holidays are always connected with settlers storming the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and attacking Palestinian worshipers and civilians, and there is always a response from Gaza to these attacks. This time, however, it isn’t Gaza’s resistance factions who are responding, but ordinary people.
Hundreds of people gathered in various spots along Gaza’s fence with Israel during the past week and a half in a show of popular mobilization reminiscent of the Great March of Return in 2019. The similarities aren’t in the size or nature of the protests either, but in the locations where the protests are being held and the participants themselves. Many familiar faces have appeared, but it seems that some of them are now operating under a name.
That name appears as a new voice calling for the protests — al-Shabab al-Tha’er, or “the Revolutionary Youth.”
It started last Wednesday, when dozens of Palestinians responded to a call signed by “the Revolutionary Youth” urging Palestinians to support Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The protesters made their way to the Israeli fence and got within close proximity when a large explosion was heard. Six Palestinians were reported dead by the Gaza Health Ministry, and another 25 people were injured.
The circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, and witnesses tell two different accounts of the incident. The first is that the Israeli forces planted an explosive device on the fence to ambush the youth and kill them. The other story holds that the explosion happened when protesters tried throwing an explosive device toward the Israeli side.
The six martyrs were buried amid massive throngs of mourners as their funeral processions filled streets across the strip on Thursday, September 14. Their deaths have not daunted other protestors from joining, however — instead, they have served as a galvanizing force for people to make their way to the border. In the following days, the Revolutionary Youth continued to put out calls for more protests at the border, and people started to come out in greater numbers.
As the protests continued, the continuation of Israel’s campaign of repression against Palestinians in the West Bank served to add fuel to the fire, especially after videos circulated on social media showing Israeli settlers and armed forces violating Palestinian women and the elderly, accompanied by images of settlers storming the Aqsa compound.
On Friday, the protests drew a large crowd, and the Israeli forces responded by firing tear gas at protestors and shooting at protestors and journalists. A photographer covering the protests was hit in the hand by a tear gas canister and was transported to Turkey for treatment in an attempt to rescue his hand.
On Sunday, hundreds of people protested east of Gaza City in Malaka, one of the flashpoints for the border protests. Among the crowds of youth, two women were participating, hoping to find more people to join them in their desire to show solidarity with their people in the West Bank.
When Mondoweiss spoke to them, they seemed disappointed that not more people showed up. Normally, such a clear violation of al-Aqsa should elicit a more wide-ranging popular response, but they remain optimistic that more people will show up in the coming days.
“We came here today to defend and support our people in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Amal Ahmad, 41, one of the protestors on the front lines, told Mondoweiss. “This is the simplest thing we can do to show the Israeli occupier that Palestinians are an undefeated and strong people, and no matter what they do to terrify us through shootings and tear gas, we have more power than they do.”
“It’s unacceptable for people in Gaza to see the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank suffering at the hands of the Israelis and do nothing,” she added.
The desire to resist
Most of the recent protectors are former Great March of Return protesters, and many of them suffered from permanent injuries when the March was in full swing. Even the Revolutionary Youth, who organized these protests, is made up of Return March veterans.
“What happens to our brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Jerusalem happens to us,” 18-year-old protestor Ahmad Hafez told Mondoweiss, directing a message to Israel from the front lines. “If you keep up your aggression against our people in the West Bank, we will come to the borders every day and respond harshly.”
Protestors say that these protests will be more effective and harmful to Israel as time goes on, threatening to escalate direct actions by using new tools of confrontation, such as simple homemade hand grenades and IEDs.
“Israel will see some terrifying acts by the Revolutionary Youth in Gaza as a response to its crimes against Palestinians,” Ahmad Abu Khater, a 22-year-old member of the Revolutionary Youth, told Mondoweiss.
“We will target their vehicles and soldiers, and burn the ground underneath their feet — until they stop their terror against Palestinians and leave our homeland. We choose to defend our people,” Abu Khater said.
Abu Khater views these sorts of protests as more harmful to Israel than full-on military conflicts — he believes that Israel has suffered casualties from the protestors’ actions but that it won’t release any details. “We are here to confuse the occupier,” he said. “When they see hundreds of us standing fearless, they feel the fear, not us.”
“That’s why a child holding up a stone can terrify the occupier more than any weapon can,” Abu Khater continued.
Abu Khater is from al-Nusserat refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip. He arrived to protest alongside his friends and some of his family members — all of them young boys between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Abu Khater pointed to them one by one, and then said, “These are the youth who will liberate our land .”
Israel has not limited itself to quelling the protests on its border — it has also launched airstrikes throughout the Gaza Strip, starting last Friday. Israeli air forces struck several sites affiliated with Hamas in the north of Gaza. Some of those sites were also near where the protests took place. One of the bombed sites was a Hamas military monitoring point in the eastern part of the strip, resulting in several injuries and massive destruction in the targeted areas.
In addition to airstrikes, Israel also stepped up its economic sanctions on Gaza, closing down the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel on Friday, and preventing over 18,500 workers from Gaza from going to work in Israel.
Sami ‘Amsi, the head of Gaza’s Labor syndicate, said in a press release that the closure of the Erez crossing in response to the events at the borders is an act of collective punishment of over 18,500 workers and their families in Gaza.
“The Israeli occupation uses the file of Gaza workers as a form of pressure, and as political and economic blackmail of Palestinians,” ‘Amsi said in the statement. “Israel seeks to make political gains at the expense of Palestinian workers and their livelihood.”
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union