UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — With a sunrise every Friday, Mohammed Helles prepares a keffiyeh and a slingshot to identify him if he is killed during the more than a year-and-a-half-year-old “March of Return” protests along the borders of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Mohammed Helles wakes up Friday from his sleep early. Sipping a cup of hot tea, dressed and accompanied by his older brother Ziad to a nearby mosque to pray.
After Friday prayers, Mohammed and Ziad set off on foot to the border area, hundreds of meters from their home in the Shejaiya area east of Gaza City.
Ziad, who is suffering from severe hearing loss due to an old gas bomb injury, had just left Shifa hospital, where he is being treated for a new Israeli bullet wound to his leg, to take part in the protests. He leans on two metal crutches, to return to the hospital in the evening to continue his treatment.
Mohammed Helles, 21, says he does not sleep well on Friday night. “I’m excited for Friday, thinking what we want to do.”
Nevertheless, he no longer believes that these Hamas-encouraged protests will change Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza for a decade.
“We want to do something more against the army,” he told AFP. “I will stop participating soon. They (Hamas security) are banning the use of coarse tools. That way they will not achieve any goal.”
Since March 2018, the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip has been witnessing weekly demonstrations, with clashes demanding the lifting of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the lands from which they have been displaced since 1948.
Since then, at least 311 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, while eight Israelis have been killed.
Mohammed is one of many Gazans now calling the protests routine.
“I am frustrated,” he says.
– Losing hope –
The number of participants appears to be declining.
The protests at the outset saw widespread participation and estimated the number of demonstrators in the tens of thousands, but this number fell to only a few thousand.
There has also been a decline in international media interest in protests in the sector, which has seen three wars since 2008.
Mohammed and his four brothers share one bedroom, one of two rooms in the family apartment, and an area of ninety square meters, and there is a little old and worn furniture. The family members have been hit by about 15 injuries by IDF fire since the protests began.
Mohammed and his siblings suffer from unemployment, which is about 50 percent in Gaza, and the majority of the unemployed are young.
Israel justifies the blockade by isolating Hamas and preventing it from bringing in arms, but human rights organizations denounce “collective punishment” of some two million people.
In November, Hamas reached an informal truce with Israel in return for easing the blockade, resulting in a decline in violence associated with the protests.
According to Tarek Baqouni, an analyst for Palestinian and Israeli affairs at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the protests “have temporarily eased Israeli restrictions, and for a long time Gaza has returned to the spotlight, but there has been no major change in the rules of the game.”
“However, people felt that they had become a tool for Hamas, which kept the protests against” light fire “and could escalate again.”
For Mohammed, the cessation of the use of “coarse” tools in the protests has already diminished the volume of participation and diminished hope that it will continue.
“Rough tools” means balloons loaded with incendiary or explosive materials.
“People want to see the explosions, burn tires, cut barbed wire and fire incendiary balloons,” Mohammed said.
Some argue that the protests have become meaningless.
– Protest for food –
On October 4, 28-year-old Alaa Hamdan was killed by Israeli fire.
When his body arrived at the family home to say goodbye, one of his relatives shouted in front of the cameras: “It is haram for you! The marches killed us.”
“Alaa found no food, no drink, no work, no life. Every day he goes, gets injured and gets food. How long will our lives stay like this?”
He says the protests have failed to achieve their stated goals of lifting the Israeli blockade and allowing people to return.
“My father told me not to go,” said Ziad, 24, Mohammed’s brother, who was shot eight times by Israeli bullets, most recently in the leg. “We are five living in one room on top of each other,” he said, adding that participation in the protests was “the kind of change I need.” .
“I want to share to death, my dream is lost and finished,” Mohammed interrupts himself somewhat. “There is no work and no hope in Gaza.”
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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