Palestinians collect tires in the eastern Gaza Strip for burning at the "great return march." (10,000 tires were reportedly collected) (Palinfo Twitter account, April 6, 2018).
Tires burn east of Jabaliya (Palinfo Twitter account, April 6, 2018).
Isma'il Haniyeh, head of Hamas' political bureau, consoles one of the mourning families (Palinfo Twitter account, April 4, 2018).
March held by Israeli Arabs in Sakhnin in solidarity with the Gazans killed (Palinfo Twitter account, April 7, 2018).
- Hamas plays a central role in the “great return march.” During the preparations Hamas was careful to remain in the background and represent the march as the initiative of Gazan activists who were not affiliated with Hamas. However, in effect (although not openly) Hamas has taken control and become the main force driving the “great return march,” providing it with an organizational, logistic, political and media framework. During the events Hamas has made clear despite its strategic hardships, it is able to efficiently organize and mobilize the general public in the Gaza Strip, and that the Gazan public heeds Hamas and its obeys its instructions, even at the cost of lives.
- So far, there is a pattern of mass demonstrations carried out on Fridays (close to 40,000 on March 30, 2018, and close to 20,000 on April 6, 2018). During the week a few hundred demonstrators have participated (although the number may rise to 1,000). The demonstrations are held at between five and eight focal points along the border. At the front lines are young men, among them operatives from Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, who use the demonstrators as human shields and instigate violent provocations against the IDF, such as attempts to infiltrate Israeli territory, activities of armed Palestinians at the border security fence, throwing hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at IDF soldiers, slinging stones and attempts to vandalize the fence. IDF forces, deployed along the fence, have not allowed the rioters to cross the border into Israeli territory or violate Israeli sovereignty, and have prevented damage to the fence and its security installations.
Palestinians vandalize the border security fence (Palinfo Twitter account, April 7, 2018).
Right: Bag of Molotov cocktails seized by the IDF from a Palestinian near the border security fence (Facebook page of Shams News, April 3, 2018). Left: Facebook profile picture of an armed Gazan, posted for the “great return march.” The Arabic reads, “I am returning” (Facebook page of Abu Usama Ahmed, March 28, 2018).
- Total number of Palestinians injured so far: According to reports from the Palestinian ministry of health, 29 Palestinians have been killed. In addition, Israel is holding the bodies of two Palestinians. Another Palestinian died on April 10, bringing the total to 32 (updated to April 10, 2018). An initial examination of the identities of those killed revealed that 20 of them (just over 60%) belonged to the terrorist organizations. Most of them (13 of 19) were identified as Hamas operatives and the others as operatives of other terrorist organizations. Most of those killed (22) were killed on the first Friday, March 30, 2018, and rest (nine) on the second Friday, April 6, 2018. Two others were killed during the week. Most of them died during violent activities near the border security fence and some of them during attempts to carry out terrorist attacks (an analysis of the identities of the Gazans killed will be issued separately after the ITIC finishes its investigation).
Right: The funeral held in Khan Yunis for Fares al-Raqab, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative (Paltoday, April 2, 2018). Left: The funeral held for Abd al-Qadr al-Hawajri, a Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine operative, in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip (Dunia al-Watan, March 31, 2018).
Interim balance of achievements and failures
- The current situation on the ground has to be evaluated according to the goals which in ITIC assessment the organizers set for themselves, especially Hamas, which is the dominant factor:
- On the declarative level, the goal is to bring to the fore so-called Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel. That is done through displays, statements reported by the media and pictures of masses of refugees from the Gaza Strip streaming towards the border fence and trying to enter Israeli territory. That has been the main theme of the media message accompanying the “great return march” so far. However, the attempt to illustrate the so-called “right of return” by breaking through the fence is in direct contradiction of the (false) media message that the march would be peaceful and nonviolent (clearly contradicted by what has happened on the ground).
- On the practical level, for Hamas the march is meant to deflect attention from its strategic hardships and achieve a number of goals, among them the following: allowing the Gazans let off steam, especially the young Gazans, in response to the harsh conditions of their daily lives, and turn their frustrations towards a confrontation with Israel; to pose a practical challenge for Israel with continuous provocations along the border security fence, which Israel is not accustomed to (taking into account that there will be loss of lives); creating difficulties for Mahmoud Abbas in the hopes that the march will keep him from imposing additional sanctions on the Gaza Strip; exerting indirect pressure on the Arab states through the support of the Arab street for the Palestinian cause, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with which Hamas has problematic relations; and gaining the sympathy of international public opinion, especially in Europe, as a response to what are considered the “hostile policies” of Donald Trump towards the Palestinians.
- Given the above goals, especially regarding Hamas, in ITIC assessment the interim balance of achievements and failures has been mixed:
- Achievements so far:
- Hamas has successfully motivated tens of thousands of Gazans to let off steam which has been accumulating for a long time, the result of the worsening economic situation in the Gaza Strip. Hamas succeeded in creating a linkage between the deteriorating economic situation in the Gaza Strip and the escalation of the conflict with Israel (according to Yahya al-Sinwar, “Gaza will not starve…if it explodes it will explode in Israel’s face”). In addition, regarding governance and organization, Hamas has proved it can organize a broad civilian protest by recruiting, motivating and organizing tens of thousands of Palestinians (and has been sending a message to both Mahmoud Abbas and Israel that the population supports it). On the ground, the events have challenged the IDF, forcing it to deploy exceptional forces to face mass riots and provocations with the participation of operatives affiliated with Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.
- In the realm of politics and the media:
- The march was covered by the global media and received with sympathy mainly in Western Europe and the UN (to a great extent because of IDF gunfire, which was regarded as non-proportional, and caused the deaths of many Palestinians.) In addition, Hamas managed to contain the events to a limited arena near the fence, avoiding escalation with Israel and deterioration of the confrontation, even in view of the Palestinian killed and wounded.
- Failures and problems so far:
- The main goal of bringing the so-called “right of return” to the attention of the international community and of the Arab-Muslim world has not been achieved. The global and local media that support the Palestinians focused on the violence itself and what was perceived as Israel’s non-proportional response, and not on the goal of the “right of return” which the march is supposed to promote. Politically, the Palestinians (and the Arab states) failed in their efforts to wrest an operational resolution from the UN Security Council to investigate the events, largely because of American backing for Israel.
- On the ground, so far Hamas and the demonstrators did not have the practical success they wanted to turn into a media win (such as breaking through the fence into Israeli territory, killing IDF soldiers or disrupting the daily lives of the civilians living in the communities near the Gaza Strip). In the internal Palestinian arena, in Judea and Samaria the events did not lead to large-scale solidarity demonstrations (Palestinian TV, which is controlled by the PA, barely covered the events). In the pan-Arab arena the events did not lead to outpourings of solidarity and support. The opposite was true, as Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian crown prince, turned a cold shoulder to the events in the Gaza Strip, stating, during a visit to the United States, that the Israelis had a right to a land of their own, a statement in direct contradiction to the “right of return” that seeks to change Israel demographically and destroy it as the national homeland of the Jews.
- Achievements so far:
Forecast for the future
The profile picture of the Twitter account of Hamas- affiliated Palinfo encourages breaking through the border security fence for the sake of al-Aqsa. The Arabic reads, “We return#I return (Palinfo Twitter account, April 8, 2018).
Structure of the report
- This report has the following sections:
- Overview of the events so far
- Summary of the events
- IDF deployment and policies
- The March 30 demonstrations and following events
- The April 6 demonstrations and following events
- Medical deployment
- Number of Palestinians killed and the percentage of terrorist operatives among them
- Involvement of Hamas
- Incitement to violence and hatred
- Prominent statements of senior Hamas figures
- Organizing the population
- Low profile criticism from Gazans and organizations
- Future plans
- The extent of external support
- The Palestinian Authority (PA)
- Israel and its neighboring Arab states
- The international arena
- Overview of the events so far
 For further information about preparations for the "great return march," see the bulletins issued on February 11, March 7 and March 27, 2018. ↑
 Responses from the UN and Western media generally ignored attempts to invade Israeli territory and violate its sovereignty. They also ignored the mass violence employed, and the central role played by Hamas in organizing the events and instigating violence.. ↑
 During his visit to the United States, Mohammad bin Salman was interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of The Atlantic. Goldberg asked him if he believed the Jewish people had a right to a nation state, at least in a part of the land of their ancestors. Mohammad bin Salman replied, "I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land" (ITIC emphasis) (The Atlantic, April 2, 2018). ↑
 Khaybar, Saudi Arabia, was settled by Jews and invaded by Muhammad in 628 AD. The Jews surrendered to his army after their allies betrayed them in the decisive battle and joined Muhammad. During modern times, the battle of Khaybar has come to symbolize the victory of Islam over the Jews, and Hamas uses it to threaten Israel. ↑