Israel, Hamas mark ‘March of Return’ anniversary with truce. Here’s how it happened

Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas have brokered a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. On the March 30 anniversary of the “March of Return” protests, Israeli and Palestinian forces decided to maintain peace along the border to avoid violence and bloodshed.

A news outlet close to Hamas says the two sides have agreed to reduce tensions so that Palestinians can peacefully protest along the Gaza Strip border, a site for widespread violence and casualties over the past few years.

Al Jazeera says that in protests at Gaza border fence, Israeli snipers shot and killed as many as 260 Palestinians and wounded 7,000 more.

However, on the Great March of Return anniversary, Hamas and Israel struck a temporary ceasefire after Egyptian officials held mediation.

Hamas is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, the largest Palestinian militant Islamic group formed in 1987. Although it was initially formed to counter Israeli military, since 2005, it has participated in and won Palestinian elections.

In 2017, it republished its charter without any violent, anti-Semitic rhetoric. Hamas is also willing to accept the pre-1967 boundaries for a Palestinian state.

However, some countries, like the US, still believe Hamas is an illegal militant group.

What is the Great March of Return?

The Great March of Return is a popular resistance organisation; Palestinians “demanding their right to return to their homeland and to break the arbitrary Israeli siege imposed on the Gaza Strip” founded it.

Ahmed Abu Artema, a 35-year-old Palestinian poet, journalist, and refugee from Al Ramla village, revived the Palestinian resistance against Israel; he created the Great March of Return movement that is based on Gandhian principles of non-violent civil protest.

Artema’s Facebook post on March 30 calling for the protests has now grown into a movement for Palestinian autonomy and freedom. He says Israel can either meet Palestinians with violence or encourage peaceful demonstrations.

“What started as a Facebook post turned into a historic movement, giving Israel an unprecedented opportunity; it could encourage Palestinians to adopt peaceful resistance, through words and culture, rather than guns and violence,” he says.

Thousands of Palestinians march every Friday in the hope that Israel will lift its 11-year land, air, and sea blockades in Gaza, a heavily militarised zone with Palestinian and Israeli defence forces lining each side of the border.

Artema says, “The right of return is more than a political statement; it is ingrained in the very nature of what it means to be Palestinian, rooted in Palestinian culture, literature, and the minds of refugees residing in camps and countries around the globe.”

Rules of the ceasefire

An official close to the Israel-Hamas negotiations said the truce happened late evening on March 26, and Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, mediated. The Egyptian border has remained mostly closed except for a few deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“Upon Egyptian mediation, Palestinian factions and Israel reached an agreement on a ceasefire,” the official said.

Israel will ease restrictions in the fisheries, allow Qatari aid and other goods in through the Erez and Kerem Shalom borers, and restart the area’s electricity supply as well.

People were previously allowed to fish only for 17 kilometres into the Mediterranean sea. Now, they will be allowed to fish up to 28 kilometres.

These actions will likely make life easier for Palestinians in the region. In return, Israel expects an end to rocket attacks from Gaza. On March 31, Palestinians launched rockets into Israel at night and were met with Israeli tank fire.

Israeli National News quotes Deputy Hamas Leader Saleh al-Arouri as saying the ceasefire is not a peace agreement.

Military aggression in disputed territories

Regardless of the non-violent nature of the protests, reports say Israeli forces have still responded to protests militarily.

Al Jazeera reports that, last year, Israeli forces injured 18,000 Palestinians and killed 200. They even shot young Palestinian volunteers in their 20s who were helping as medics.

An Amnesty International report says since the Great March of Return protests started, Israeli forces have injured 10,000, including 1,849 children, 424 women, 115 paramedics, and 115 journalists.

Amnesty says the blockades in Gaza have tanked the region’s economy; the result is steep 44% unemployment, thousands of internally displaced people, and poor infrastructure.

The Great March of Return protests are seeking to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians.

Aya Isleem, a Palestinian journalist, reported that five Palestinians and over 200 others sustained injuries after yesterday’s protests. She said Israeli forces also wounded children with tear gas.

NPR has confirmed that at least four Palestinians died at the Gaza border amidst the protests, including a 17-year-old.

Drawing parallels

Like the Gaza Strip, Kashmir is a disputed region with heavy military aggression on either side of its borders.

India and Pakistan have long fought over control of Kashmir, and their respective armed forces have abused their power through unlawful killings, sexual assaults, and restriction on Kashmiris’ freedom of movement, speech, and right to protest.

The organisation has even called for the repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and 1990; it says it creates a “culture of impunity” in Kashmir.

In 2018, Indian security forces killed seven Kashmir civilians in the Sirnoo village while targeting three militants. The civilian deaths triggered protests in Pulwama where the Indian government suspended internet services.

Even this year, after Jaish-e-Mohammad attacked soldiers in Pulwama, a Kashmiri civilian died in a gunbattle between Indian forces and the terrorists.

If India and Pakistan can stick to temporary ceasefires, like Israel and Hamas intend to, the Kashmiri people seek to benefit from the calm the most.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius