CIVICUS speaks to Amjad Al Shawi about the disproportionate use of force and extreme violence against peaceful protesters in Gaza and the reasons why the world cannot remain silent about these monstrous acts. Amjad works with the Palestinian NGO Forum and lives and works in Gaza.
1. Please tell us what happened during the protests that have been ongoing since 30 March in the Gaza strip?
Palestinians from all walks of life have been taking part in The Great March of Return and Breaking Blockade to protest their forced evictions and displacement since 1948, demanding the right of return, as stipulated in the UN Resolution 194. Protesters are also calling for an end to the 11-year blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza. Palestinians are protesting peacefully to be able to live freely, which is something that concerns everybody. For this reason, women, elders and children took part in the protests to show the world the real face of Gaza. We are calling for the implementation of the UN resolution and for the international community to pressure Israel to respect international humanitarian law and to end the illegal blockade on Gaza.
We are devastated that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) used lethal force to attack civil demonstrators. We did not pose any danger to the Israelis and we were simply calling for them to respect our right as human beings. Since March 30th, 110 Palestinians have been killed and over 10,000 wounded while taking part in the peaceful protests. The bloodiest day was May 14th where at least 61 Palestinians were killed including 8 children and over 2771 injured including 225 children and 86 women by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). Health personnel and Palestinian Security Service have also been targeted by the IOF as 44 of the paramedics and the civil defence security personnel were injured with live bullets and gas suffocation.
2. Why are the protests taking place?
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are experiencing a catastrophe in all aspects of life. We are living under an 11-year continuous blockade imposed by Israel. As a result, we live in dire socioeconomic conditions, experience shortages in basic needs and this has translated into a humanitarian crisis. The overall situation in the Gaza Strip is dramatically deteriorating and people are frustrated because they feel that nothing can be done. The peaceful protests were an example of the little that the Palestinians in Gaza can do to raise the attention of the international community that the situation in Gaza is a catastrophe in all aspects of life. The situation in Palestine can be compared with Apartheid in South Africa.
Due to the blockade and the grave violations of basic human rights, we are struggling more than ever. 65% of the population in Gaza is youth and 80% of population receives humanitarian aid. We have received humanitarian aid from various sides but recently the funding from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees was reduced from 320 million to 70 million dollars. A lot of financial support was raised after the 2014 offensive but we have only received 37%.
The peaceful protests were an initiative from Palestinians in Gaza and the massacre on peaceful protesters was a culmination of the last 70 years of oppression and suffering of the Palestinian people. People of Gaza are only calling for justice and human rights but the IOF even injured medical staff and journalists, which is against the Geneva conventions. This harsh situation requires an urgent intervention from the international community to protect human rights in the Gaza strip.
3. Who are the drivers of the problem?
Besides from the IOF continuously violating basic human rights of Palestinians, the coming to power of Donald Trump has negatively affected the lives of Palestinians. Freedom of assembly is a basic right but what we experience and see on the border is the opposite of this. We have seen police throw tear gas and snipers shoot demonstrators. There is no accountability and the silence of the international community is cause for concern.
Negative narratives targeting Palestinians are being promoted and supported. It all started with the issue of Jerusalem. The world is ignoring the rights of Palestinians and any potential for a two-state solution and right to return. The Trump administration is ignoring Palestinian victims and has given the green light to the IOF to continue violating human rights in Gaza, promote illegal settlements in West Bank and sustain the blockade of Gaza.
4. What have made people go back to the streets in spite of the violence since March 30th?
We have no other option than to go. No other hope. We will continue to raise the voices and then the international community will listen. People here are dying every day. We were surprised that so many numbers came. Families used their Friday holiday to go, elders symbolically held keys of their houses they left in 1964. Children who still dream to be free to play football, sing, and dance to popular Palestinian songs, came out and protesters raised Palestinian flags. People in Gaza are only asking for their basic rights. It is about self-determination and rights to end occupation. It is a demand to have a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as our capital, the right to our natural resources and the right to live in dignity and freedom.
5. What can international civil society, international institutions and people around the world do to help?
Humanitarian aid is needed but mostly we need support for our basic freedoms. We need statements from international NGOs outlining the grave violations committed by the Israelis. We also call on the Secretary General of the UN to send an inquiry mission to investigate the unlawful killings. The Americans and Israelis refuse the proposal to send any inquiry to investigate the crimes committed there. The human rights violations we witness every day in Gaza is indicative of the failure of the international community and the lack of accountability encourages the IOF to continue using excessive use of force against peaceful protesters. The time to act is now and to ensure justice for Palestinians.
The conspiracy of silence has led Israel to violate different conventions and different rights included in international law. During the UN General Assembly, representatives from civil society organisations in Palestine were prevented from leaving Gaza to meet colleagues and share our recommendations. The premises of civil society organisations were attacked by Israel during the wars even though the premises were funded by international donors. We called our donors to compensate or to hold Israel accountable but what can we then do? Die in silence? Our youth have no jobs and there is no future in Gaza. Nobody is safe here. We have never experienced what we are going through now.
Our message to citizens in other countries is that this is a time to show solidarity with Palestinians as we are calling for human rights and democracy. We are very sad to see our beautiful youth killed in this way. We want to see a proper future for our children and for them to grow up in an environment like children in other countries. There are people living in Gaza who have never left Gaza because of the Israeli blockade. Your voice your stance is needed to show that Palestinians in Gaza are facing this brutal occupation. Your silence would be considered a green light for Israel to continue its atrocities.