Israel killed at least 16 Palestinians on Friday as 30,000 people marched on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Soldiers fired live ammunition at protesters as they demonstrated at the border fence. The 16 Palestinians killed include a farmer who was shelled by an Israeli tank as he worked on his land near the border.
The Israeli military sent more than 100 snipers to the border in preparation for the protests. Soldiers were instructed to fire on any demonstration that approached the border.
Palestinians defied Israeli threats of violence to join the protests. Israeli Defence Force (IDF) chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said on Thursday, “The orders are to use a lot of force.”
Some 1,100 protesters are said to have been injured by Israeli soldiers who also fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas at the demonstrations. Fourteen protesters were also reported injured in the West Bank city Ramallah.
The demonstrations begin six weeks of protests dubbed The Great March of Return—marking 70 years of Palestinian dispossession by the racist state of Israel.
Friday’s demonstrations came on Land Day, the anniversary of the day in 1976 when Israel killed six people protesting over the theft of Palestinian land.
The protesters in 1976 were resisting Israeli expropriation of swathes of Palestinian land in the Galilee—an area of historic Palestine now in northern Israel.
The land seized by the Israeli government was used to build several new Israeli villages and an army training camp. It was part of a policy the state then referred to as “Judaisation” of the Galilee.
This year’s protests are set to culminate on 15 May—Nakba day. This marks the day following the anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Palestinians refer to this as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, because of the process of ethnic cleansing of Arabs that paved the way for Israel’s foundation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were systematically cleared from their homes to make way for the new state of Israel.
Millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants still live in refugee camps because Israel denies their right to return to their homes.
Israel continues to disposes Palestinians of their land through its policy of settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli government plans to annex major West Bank settlements by passing a Greater Jerusalem Bill in its parliament.
The protests come as senior Israeli figures talk up the threat of a new war on Gaza. In an interview yesterday Eisenkot said, “The likelihood of escalation, to the point of war, has increased substantially”.
Israel’s last war on Gaza in 2014 killed 2,251 Palestinians. Its blockade on Gaza—now over 10 years old—has caused what the United Nations describes as a humanitarian crisis.