The Return Camps: A Peaceful Transformation of a Deadly Zone

Hala Safadi, a journalist in Gaza, reports on the protest camps established at the edge of the Israeli-imposed “No-Go Zone” close to the security fence. Since the protests began on 30 March, 28 protesters have been killed and over 4,000 injured, and the UN has expressed concern at Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ right to freedom of assembly. Below Hala describes a different side to the Great March of Return not widely depicted in the media:

A series of civilian-led peaceful protests known as the Great Return March began in Gaza on March 30th, coinciding with the Land Day for Palestinians. The protests take place in five locations inside Gaza and are planned until May 15th, which marks the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) and the scheduled, highly contentious relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

The area once a no-go zone for Palestinians in Gaza has turned into a place many protesters believe is the closest to the homelands they were expelled from.

Protesters succeeded in transforming the deadly zone, where Israeli forces killed 27 protesters and injured more than 4,000 others, into a place that united protesters from different walks of life and of different origins and backgrounds. On Fridays, thousands of Palestinians march towards the fence, watched by Israeli forces. During the rest of the week, different cultural events are organised in the area.

As one approaches the buffer-zone in East Gaza, refugee protesters have set up tents for their families in what is now called “The Return Camps”. Banners on the tents have the name of the families and the villages they were forced to flee from in 1948. Inside the tents, children, women, and young men sit around older members of the community to listen to their memories of a homeland they long for. “I will continue to tell my children and my grandchildren about Bir al-Saba’ [now Beersheba]. We will pass on the importance of our right of return to the young generations who have never been able to touch ground with where they are originally from,” the 75 year-old Abdallah Al-Zraei said. “I was only five when my family left, yet I still remember how beautiful my village was,” he added.

Protesters insist on holding to the peaceful approach of the March and their creativity does not fail them. On another side of The Return Camps, Suhaib Abu-Elyan, sells drinks and milk pudding to protesters from his cart. “One day I will sell the same things in Yaffa [now Jaffa] where I am originally from,” he commented. Other street vendors say they have perfumes and onions with them to help protesters who inhale tear gas.

In the Return Camps, the smell of Palestinian food can easily be noticed. Protesters have been preparing different foods during these protests such as the famous Palestinian mussakhan, the Gazan sumaqeya, and the saj bread.

The committee in charge of organising the events of the Great Return March planned cultural competitions for children and gave away gifts..

The Return Camp symbolises the sacred and legal right of refugees in Gaza; their right of return, as endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194 in December 1948.  

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