Human rights

Civil society engagement in Gaza's 'Great Return' marches

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Drone footage of the Great Return March at the Gaza Strip (Screenshot via YouTube).

The extreme and exaggerated use of violence against Palestinian unarmed demonstrators in the Gaza Strip has already promoted the immoral image of Israeli occupation forces at the global platforms. It also contributes to increasing their isolation, writes Dr Ibrahim Natil.

ENGAGEMENT OF LOCAL civil society activists in the Great Return marches has been visible since the first day.

Many civil society organisations abroad are active to delegitimise the unjustifiable violence of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinians.

These actions and involvement on various spectrums revive power and active participatory engagement of civil society activists and their network abroad as well. 

Active engagement

Responsibility for the murder of more than 117 unarmed demonstrators during the last weeks of the Great Return marches every Friday has revived the questioning of Palestine's situation. Palestinians’ persistence, patience and endurance to keep the demonstrations peaceful is remarkable and phenomenal, despite the Israeli attempts to drag the Palestinian factions to use armed violence. Groups of young people from various social, political and cultural backgrounds have found in these marches an opportunity to express themselves peacefully by engaging in a number of activities as sport, songs, enchanting anthems, planting, tenting, reporting and folklore dancing.

A young human rights activist, Mohammed Srour, told me:

"They have a number of those young people who trained on advocacy and community peaceful actions by many civil society organisations during the last years."

The protest and unarmed demonstration of young people close to the separation fence between the isolated Gaza Strip and Israel imposes a steady political challenge for the Israeli occupation. It keeps reminding the world of the status of Palestine and the inhumane circumstances of the Strip since 2000. This brings Palestine to the global agenda after years of ongoing conflicts in many countries of the Middle East. Responding to current dire humanitarian circumstances in the Gaza Strip, more than 70 international non-government organisations have called on international donors to address the situation.

There have been many groups in the Israeli society still working towards justice and peace, but with very limited impact and influence over the rightwing Government. However, the current events inspired them and a number of civil society actors to question the legitimacy of using the extreme and unjustifiable violence against Palestinians. Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem questioned this in an online article‘Why Israeli soldiers must refuse to fire at unarmed Palestinian protesters’.

Politically, the head of the leftwing Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg, also called on Israeli authorities on 31 March to open an investigation into the violence that led to 15 Palestinians killed and 1,400 injured during the first day of the massive protests.

In addition, 1,500 people participated in a rally in the Arab-Israeli city of Sakhnin in a show of solidarity with the people of Gaza. Protesters chanted "Gaza residents are heroes" and "oh martyr, rest and we will continue the struggle”. While many civil society actions abroad continue to delegimitise the actions of the rightwing Government, local voices may turn to national campaigns to influence government policies. These days, civil society activists and organisations also are increasing their public and online support to mobilise their constituencies, and influence the politicians and policy-makers in various western countries.


In response to the ongoing killing of unarmed protestors, Dublin City Council continues its policy of supporting and endorsing rights of Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for freedom, equality and justice.

It seeks to the delegitimise the actions’ of Israel in Palestine, according to their statement:

Since its violent establishment in 1948 through the ethnic cleansing of more than half of the indigenous people of Palestine, the state of Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law; noting also that Israel continues to illegally occupy and colonise Palestinian land, discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, imposes an inhumane blockade and siege of Gaza and denies Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, this City Council fully supports and endorses the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for freedom, equality and justice and commits itself to discontinue all business contracts it has with Hewlett-Packard, both HP Inc. (PCs and printers), and Hewlett Packard Enterprise for business and government services, as well as the HP spin-off DXC Technology as HP and DXC provide and operate much of the technology infrastructure that Israel uses to maintain its system of apartheid and settler colonialism over the Palestinian people.

There was a remarkable initiative from London Palestine Action, who placed hundreds of posters on London Underground trains to promote the right of return and the current Great Return marches in the Gaza Strip. They also called for a stop on arms trading between Israel and the UK, and to divest companies investing in arms trade.

Attempts for hope

More importantly, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) warned:

'... that the use of live fire by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian protesters in the occupied Gaza Strip could “constitute crimes under the Rome Statute”.'

While this is very little intervention from the ICC’s Prosecutor, the quick response may bring a little hope for many Palestinians and provide a ground for their rights, and pursue the Israeli leaders before international courts.

Civil society’s engagement from various backgrounds in the weekly marches is essential to delegitimise the violent actions of the Israeli occupation, its image and promotion of the Palestinian peaceful and popular struggle. Civil society and human rights organisations will remain a major actor of raising awareness of Palestinian's rights globally.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a lecturer at Dublin City University and a Fellow at Institute for International Conflict ResolutionHe is a human rights campaigner and was a nominee for the Tällberg Foundation Global Leadership Prize, 2016. You can follow Dr Natil on Twitter @Natilibrahim.

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