How Gazans Feel About Cost Of Recent Protests

May 30, 2018
Originally published on May 30, 2018 6:58 pm
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The question facing many Gazans is whether the weeks of protests along the Gaza-Israel border have been worth the high cost in life and limb. Palestinians say Israeli troops killed more than 100 Gazans and wounded thousands of others during a wave of protests that peaked about two weeks ago. Israel says many of those killed were attacking troops. And yesterday, Israel responded to Gazan rocket attacks with airstrikes. Protesters said they seek a return to lands lost in Israel and to focus attention on the dire situation in Gaza. NPR's Daniel Estrin visited Gaza to ask people there whether they feel they've gained anything.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: An 18-year-old lifts up the stub where his leg used to be, and nurses tape on some gauze. You could hear Israeli drones buzzing in the sky above. Attallah Fayyoum says he and a group of guys faced off Israeli troops at the border fence. He said they threw rocks, flew kites. At one point, he said, he and his friend Islam helped carry away people shot by Israeli troops. And then...

ATTALLAH FAYYOUM: (Through interpreter) We sat down just to get some rest, and Islam was shot in the stomach. I was going to call for help for Islam, then I was shot on the way.

ESTRIN: He said he went to the border to force Israel out of Jerusalem. Now his leg's been amputated.

What do you think the - these protests, did they achieve anything?

FAYYOUM: (Through interpreter) So far, they've achieved nothing.

ESTRIN: His mother hopes some organization can pay for an artificial leg for her son. Like most who were injured, they're poor. The Palestinian Assalama Charitable Society provides help to wounded Palestinians. The group says many of the wounded are suffering from malnutrition, a sign of the desperate situation of Gazans in general that helped fuel the protests. Fady Kershally is with the group and has been visiting the wounded.

FADY KERSHALLY: (Through interpreter) At first, they feel like they're advancing something for the nation. But after getting injured, most of them change their mind. Some say, maybe we shouldn't have gone in the first place.

ESTRIN: Hamas, the Islamist group that has ruled Gaza for about a decade, helped lead the protests. Senior member Ghazi Hamad says paying a price is nothing new for Gazans.

GHAZI HAMAD: We have to pay the price for freedom. That's right. For example, I lost my father. I lost my uncle. I spent 5 years in the prison. In Gaza or in the West Bank, as Palestinians, they paid the price. OK. That's right. We know that. And we will pay more and more.

ESTRIN: He said the protests achieved some things, even if they're still intangible, like international concern.

HAMAD: The world give more attention to the suffering in Gaza. The Palestinian cause now in the international media. In addition, it makes more pressure on Israel.

ESTRIN: Pressure to lift a blockade Israel imposes on Gaza. The U.S. and EU consider Hamas a terrorist group. Israel says, for that reason, the blockade is necessary. Hamas vows to renew border protests next week. As far as Israel is concerned, the violence on the border has been Hamas' fault. Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus of the Israeli army says some of those killed were armed. And he points to Hamas firing mortars and rockets into Israel yesterday.

JONATHAN CONRICUS: I think this really pulls the mask off the charade. Or it really exposes what Hamas has been doing for the last nine weeks. If you look at the reports in many parts of the media, the so-called peaceful protests and the unarmed struggle and the march of return and all other hype and nonsense, nothing of the kind.

ESTRIN: One thing the protests apparently prompted was Egypt opening its border slightly, letting some Gazans leave. I met one 38-year-old man hoping to travel out, Nabil Abu Jazara.

You're going to Egypt.

NABIL ABU JAZARA: Yes.

ESTRIN: Why?

ABU JAZARA: To flee from Gaza Strip forever.

ESTRIN: He wants to flee the Gaza Strip forever. He sees no future in Gaza.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.