More than 200 Palestinians have been killed since the launch of the Great March of Return along Gaza’s boundary with Israel on 30 March 2018.
Palestinians participating in the protest series are demanding their right to return to the lands on the other side of the boundary from which their families were expelled decades earlier.
Every two in three Palestinians in Gaza is a refugee.
Protesters are also calling for an end to Israel’s land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, now in its 12th year, which has plunged the territory into poverty and despair.
Mohammed Zaanoun, a member of the Activestills photo collective, has documented the Great March of Return since its beginning.
Here protesters tell their stories and explain why they come back to the boundary week after week, despite Israel’s brutal crackdown.
Husam, 25, from Khan Younis, southern Gaza
Last Friday, when I had the Palestinian flag painted on my face, I was hit by a gas canister directly in my back. I was badly injured and transferred to a hospital. I’m now being treated at home. I wish to recover so I can go [back to the protests] next Friday.
Despite the killings and the injuries, I am still going. I think I will keep participating even if it lasts for nine years, not just nine months. One of the worst things I’ve seen was one of the Fridays during which about 60 people were killed, when they [soldiers] were killing youth randomly and shooting towards heads and legs. It was a horrific day. I felt like I was in a nightmare.
It was so hard when I could not save one of my comrades who was bleeding on the ground after being injured by an Israeli sniper, and then he died. I can’t understand how they can kill unarmed people.
After nine months, the world is still not doing anything. We need them to stand with us and to stop the killing of the unarmed youth by the occupying forces.
Ahmad, 24, from Gaza City
I am a young person who is looking for stability but the occupation has killed all of my dreams and ambitions. It is an occupation of the mind. The challenge in my life is finding a job or any opportunity. We join the demonstrations because this is our land and to demand our rights.
But we are making progress through our resistance and our commitment to continue the peaceful, popular struggle. Many of my friends were martyred. I will keep on the path of my comrades, although everything is very difficult here in Gaza.
I was injured many times. Once by tear gas and the other by a bullet. But I came back to the field.
Shireen, 20, from al-Shujaiya, east of Gaza City
When I go to the protests, I express the anger inside me. We are a nation under siege in a very small area of 360 square kilometers, like a big prison. One of the worst things I’ve seen was when my sister was injured by a bullet. I did not know what had happened, only that she was bleeding a lot.
The women are the biggest part of the grassroots movement. Our participation means that our strength as a nation comes from both genders.
I did not face any difficulties or criticism from anybody. On the contrary, we found great support from men, families and friends for our participation as women.
With the Great March of Return, the world has become aware that there is a nation demanding its rights and that we will not stay silent. The world should support us. I want to live in a developed, free society, which has no occupation, killing or destruction. We are looking for freedom and we will seize it.
Ismail, 22, from central Gaza
I do my duty towards my homeland, therefore I join the March of Return. Even if it lasts forever, I will keep coming. I think we are about to realize our goals despite all of the oppression and the siege. It’s a new way to defend our rights and it destabilizes the occupying forces.
There is no clear future for young people. I am part of the young generation who wish to have a future and dream of nice things like all young people around the world. We have been under siege since I was 11 years old. I grew up and I learned the meaning of not being able to find a job or even to travel.
I was injured in my head by a gas canister and I stayed at the hospital for a while with many of my friends. Some of them lost a limb and some were injured by gas and others by an explosive bullet in the stomach.
I wish for the world to stand on the side of justice and support us. We are strong and we need them to be next to us. I wish one day I wake up and I find our society finally opened towards the Arab and the Western world, dominated by love and stability.
Muhammad, 20, from al-Shujaiya, east of Gaza City
I come from a poor family. I cannot get an education because of the terrible living conditions and the fact that my father cannot afford to pay for my studies. I join the protests every week because I believe we have the right to go back to our houses that we were forced from. I was not alive at the time that my grandparents were displaced from their homes. But today, I am affirming my right to return to my grandparents’ land.
There is no future for young people in Gaza. It’s hard losing comrades in the March of Return after snipers shot them with bullets. We usually remember their last words and this pushes us to keep going. I was injured twice, once seriously, but I got back my strength and I rejoined the march. We don’t ask anything from the world but to watch how we can change our reality with our own hands. We need freedom and stability. We want a homeland without occupation.
Aya, 21, from Gaza City
I know I could be killed by Israeli snipers, but if I stay home the siege will become worse and the world will forget our cause.
We [women] are strong, just like men, and we will take part in political change. Instead of criticism we received full support from men, family and friends. No one can prevent us from taking part in the protests.
At the March of Return, you witness many terrible things. The bloodiest day was 14 May, which was full of tragic scenes that broke our hearts as we watched Israelis killing young people in cold blood. I was injured many times and I recovered and returned to take part with my friends. I have lost loved ones but we are following their path and we will meet in paradise.
We have sent a strong message to the world to support us and to put pressure on the occupier to stop its oppression. We are waiting for that to happen, and we continue Protesting.
Asma, 23, from Gaza City
We women are making a difference in the history of confronting the occupation. We make sure to always be there because we are part of this cause. Yes, women have a role in politics and the struggle. Women and men stand shoulder to shoulder and there is no difference in the way we confront soldiers. I am supported by my family, brothers and friends and there is no criticism from men. On the contrary, they support us.
We have lost martyrs and many others were injured. The only thing the world does is that it condemns the excessive killing, which is very bad for us. But we need to see the world uphold its responsibilities towards Palestine and Gaza.
I’m looking forward to a society that has freedom and culture and in which women are equal to men, such as in the March of Return.
Aya, 21, from Gaza City
I participate because it is our duty to demand our full rights, as the Palestinian people, despite the killing and the injuries. This is the march of a nation.
I ask Avichay Adraee [the Israeli army spokesperson who advised Palestinian women on Twitter that it was best for them to stay at home] to sit next to his wife instead of spreading foolish speech. I have witnessed so many scenes of children being killed and the targeting of women, medics and the press. My oldest sister was seriously wounded but thank God she survived and she returned to the protest again. After all that time, the Return march continues and will not stop.
I wish that the world would stop the oppression of the occupation and the killing of innocent, unarmed people. The difficult thing in my life is that I’m looking for a future amid the darkness. I wish to live in a society like any other Arab or Western society where there are no wars or killings, only justice, equality, love and peace.
Raghda, 18, from Gaza City
To live in Gaza means that you’ll continuously suffer due to long electricity outages and the inability to do homework, in addition to the sounds of explosions. My dream is to be a doctor in order to save the lives of wounded people.
I confront Israelis on the boundary and I’m not afraid of their fire. The world must do something to save our lives.
Hidaya, 39, from Gaza City
It is our right to defend our land. I am aware of the dangers we face but if I stay home, that’s more dangerous for us.
My youngest son was seriously injured in his stomach. I asked God to keep him alive and thank God he is well now and he is still participating in the March of Return. I was injured twice and I recovered very quickly.
I was expecting that the world would put pressure on the occupation, but after Trump announced the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, I realized that the world is abetting in the crimes against Palestinians. I wish nations would wake up from their sleep and stand up to the oppressive occupation. I wish for Palestine to be liberated from the occupation.