At least eight Palestinians were killed and hundreds more injured by Israeli military forces last week, during the second week of protests on the Gaza-Israel border.
“The loss of Palestinian lives here is tragic,” said Robert Nicholson, founder and executive director of the Philos Project, an organization dedicated to promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.
“It’s also needless. This is not the way to help a broken nation,” Nicholson told CNA.
Among those killed are a 16-year old boy and a journalist who worked for Ain Media, a Gaza-based agency.
The protests, which drew thousands on Friday across a 40-mile stretch along the Israel-Gaza border, demanded that Palestinians be allowed to go back to homes within Israel from which they or their families have been displaced.
Similar protests over the past month have left estimated 30 people dead, and more than 1,000 people have been wounded, according to Palestinian reports. Israeli officials have questioned the reported number of injuries.
The protests are part of a six-week campaign, known by some as the “Great March of Return,” organized mostly by Hamas, an Islamic militant group, which claims to be advocating for the peaceful return of Palestinians to their homelands.
Unemployment nears 50 percent, and electricity and potable water are in limited supply in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas and has been the subject of a blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
In January, Franciscan Sister Bridget Tighe, the director of Caritas in Jerusalem, told the National Catholic Register that “most of the people in Gaza are poor to destitute...I have been to homes where there was no food.”
“The horror of this tragedy underlines how the political process, along with the economy, are paralyzed, and living conditions for the Palestinians have worsened, leaving communities with deepened levels of desperation and frustration,” said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy for the Catholic aid group CAFOD, in a recent press release.
Thorns said that the blockade in Gaza “continues to have a devastating effect,” which has limited people’s “access to health care and markets,” and leaving them “dependent on humanitarian aid.” He also said that the most vulnerable victims of the violence are the elderly, disabled, women and children.
“The only way out of the cycle of violence is for Israelis and Palestinians to be truly secure, is to revive hope for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace process, aimed at creating conditions for a stable peace based on justice, where all must be treated equally,” Thorns said.
Many Palestinians fled or were forced to leave their homes in 1948 when Israel was created, and Palestinian-owned land was officially confiscated by Israel in 1976.
The Israeli foreign ministry reported that most of the deaths at the Gaza border last week were members of Hamas, and said that Hamas is using Palestinians as cover for military action, and armed militants have charged the border. They also noted that protesters threatened military forces with stones and firebombs.
However, Palestinians have said that although they have acted in accordance with their agreed upon rules of engagement, peaceful, unarmed protesters were shot during the rallies.
Hamas, which was founded in 1987, has been designated as a terrorist group by Israel, U.S., EU, and UK, among other nations.
In his April 1 Urbi et Orbi address, Pope Francis prayed for the Holy Land, saying “we beseech fruits of reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless.”
The pope prayed “that dialogue and mutual respect may prevail over division and violence,” in the Middle East.