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Great March of Return: Shot and killed in Gaza while praying for justice

Photo: Ibrahim Zanoun / AFSC

Hold Israel accountable for killing Palestinian protesters by taking action here.

We are told that the killing of over 60 people in Gaza on May 14th was justified because among the tens of thousands of protesters there were some individuals who may have had violent intent. 

We are told that the killing of over 60 people in Gaza on May 14th was justified because among the tens of thousands of protests a few people threw fire bombs, burned tires, and flew kites with burning tails. 

We are told that the killing of over 60 people in Gaza on May 14th was justified because among the tens of thousands of protesters there were individuals associated with Hamas.

We are told that the killing of over 60 people in Gaza on May 14th was justified because the demand for respect for the right of return is seen as threatening by Israelis and since the demand of those protesting was not acceptable to those subject to the protest the use of violence is acceptable.

We are told that these factors justify Israeli violence and that if Palestinians had acted differently they could have protested without risking violence from Israel.

But on March 30th when the protests began tens of thousands of Palestinians protested without resort to arms, without flaming kites, without fire bombs, without burning tires and they were still shot and killed.

They were shot and killed while their backs were to the Israeli soldiers.

They were shot and killed while praying.

They were shot and killed while covering the protest as professional journalists and medical personnel.

The actions of protesters is not what determined Israeli use of force.

On March 30th Israeli forces including hundreds of snipers massed on the edge of Gaza before protests started, ready to shoot anyone approaching the Gaza fence and the use of force promised was not conditional to how protests unfolded.

Over a period of one and a half months protests by tens of thousands of Palestinians were sustained without use of arms and without injury or loss of life to any Israelis. Well over 10,000 Palestinians were wounded and more than 100 killed during the same period but tens of thousands of Palestinians continued to non-violently protest the daily violence of occupation and siege and the ongoing violent repression of the protests themselves. Yet in this situation we are expected to condemn first and foremost the primarily symbolic violence of a few protesters, not those whose violence caused harm.

When we look to sustained protests that are violently repressed we are told that what we should expect is absolute nonviolent discipline from tens of thousands of protesters, even when they face sustained violent and lethal repression. Anything less than absolute nonviolent discipline justifies violent repression. 

We are told that violent resistance to injustice is not acceptable and that nonviolence is the answer. Yet when a party like Hamas engages in tactical nonviolence we are told that is not enough, what is needed is ideological rejection of violence and anything else is but a mask hiding violent intent. This then justifies the use of lethal force and violence. How can we take seriously a demand for adherence to nonviolence when those putting forward this demand do so while pointing a gun and using violence? 

Let’s be clear, what is being called for is not ideological pacifism but one-sided absolute capitulation and surrender.

When we are told that right of return is a threat to Israel and thus the protesters intent cannot be seen as anything but violent, what we are being told is that those protesting must shape their demands based on what is acceptable to those facing protest. What protesters demand must be what those being protested already think they might be willing to give. If demands are beyond what those targeted by the protests find acceptable or comfortable then violence against the protesters is warranted regardless of what form protests take.

What is being said is that Palestinian voices, Palestinian rights, Palestinian lives – none of these things matter.

About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Palestine-Israel Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US. 

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