On March 30, an attempt by tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to infiltrate the border with Israel launched a six-week campaign of mass protests -- called the "March of Return" -- organized by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other radical Palestinian groups.
The groups encouraged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to head to the areas adjacent to the border with Israel. The protesters were also encouraged to try to infiltrate the border, thus putting their lives at risk.
Hamas and its allies told the protesters that the "March of Return" marked the beginning of the "liberation of all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River." In other words, the Palestinians were told that infiltrating the border with Israel would be the first step toward destroying Israel.
Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yehya Sinwar, who joined the March 30 mass protests along the border with Israel, did not hide the real goal behind the "March of Return" -- to destroy Israel and thwart US President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.
The two Hamas leaders told the protesters that the March 30 demonstrations marked the beginning of a "new phase in the Palestinians' national struggle on the road to liberating all of Palestine, from the river to the sea." Haniyeh and Sinwar also made it clear that the "March of Return" had another goal: to foil any attempt by the Arabs to make peace or normalize their relations with Israel.
Based on statements made by Hamas leaders, the "March of Return" campaign is not about improving the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Nor is it about finding ways to solve the "humanitarian" and "economic" crises in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas and its allies did not send the protesters to the border with Israel to demand jobs and medicine. They did not encourage Palestinians to risk their lives at the border with Israel because of the lack of electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip.
Instead, the organizers sent the Palestinians to the border after assuring them that this was the only way to flood Israel with hundreds of thousands of Palestinian "refugees" as part of the "right of return." The "right of return" refers to the Palestinian demand that Israel allow Palestinian "refugees" and their descendants to move to Israel.
As Zaher Birawi, one of the organizers of the "March of Return" explained, "The right of return is sacred and a red line not to be crossed. The Palestinians will do their utmost to achieve this right."
His words, together with those of the two Hamas leaders, prove that the mass protests are aimed at forcing Israel to accept millions of Palestinian "refugees" as a first step towards turning Jews into a minority in their own country. The next step would be to kill or expel the Jews and replace Israel with an Islamic state.
Crucial here is the fact that what we witnessed along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on March 30 was not a protest by poverty-stricken and miserable Palestinians against a blockade of any kind.
If that were so, why didn't the organizers ask Palestinians to march toward the border with Egypt? The real blockade on the Gaza Strip is being imposed by Egypt, and not Israel.
In 2017, the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip was open altogether for less than 30 days; by contrast, the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip was open for more than 280 days during the same year.
Israel enforces a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip that is meant to prevent Iran, Hezbollah and other terror parties from smuggling weapons into the coastal enclave controlled by Hamas. At the same time, Israel has kept its border crossings with Gaza for the movement of goods and individuals.
Israel permits Palestinians to enter and leave the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing. Last month, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing, only to have his convoy targeted by a roadside bomb once inside Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel also allows foreigners to enter the Gaza Strip through the same border crossing. They include journalists, diplomats, and hundreds of foreigners working for various international aid agencies, including the United Nations.
All this while the Rafah border crossing with Egypt remains closed. Since the beginning of this year, the Egyptians opened the border crossing intermittently only for two or three days each time. Egypt also continues to bar foreigners from entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah terminal. Even Arabs who want to help the people of the Gaza Strip are forced to enter through the Erez border crossing because the Egyptians do not give them permission to use the Rafah terminal.
In 2017, Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip (pictured above) for less than 30 days altogether; by contrast, the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip was open for more than 280 days during the same year. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Take, for example, the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Ambassador Mohammed Al Emadi. Each time he leaves and enters the Gaza Strip, he uses the Erez border crossing with Israel. The Egyptians will not allow him or any other Arab seeking to help the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to enter through the Rafah terminal.
Given this reality, the question is: Why aren't the Palestinian protests directed against Egypt? The answer is obvious.
The Palestinians know that messing with the Egyptian army will cost them a heavy price. If Israel used snipers to stop the March 30 protesters from crossing the border, the Egyptian response would undoubtedly have been much tougher. The Egyptians would have used artillery and warplanes against the Palestinian demonstrators. The Palestinians are well aware that the Egyptian army would raze the entire Gaza Strip if the Palestinians breached the border and undermined Egypt's national security.
Besides, the "March of Return" is intended as part of the Palestinian national struggle against the "Zionist entity" -- Israel -- and has nothing to do with the closure of any border.
It is part of the Palestinian jihad (holy war) to eliminate Israel, which they see as a "colonialist project" imposed on the Arabs by Western powers after World War II. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a rare moment of honesty, admitted earlier this year that this is precisely how Palestinians and Arabs perceive Israel.
The organizers of the "March of Return" have made it clear that besides flooding Israel with millions of Palestinian "refugees," the campaign has two other objectives: to foil Trump's "deal of the century" and stop any form of Arab normalization with Israel.
The Palestinians have proclaimed a wholesale rejection of Trump's plan because they know it will not advance their goal of turning Jews into a minority in their own country. Trump's plan, they believe, does not recognize the Palestinian "right of return," which means that "refugees" and their descendants will not be allowed to move into Israel, turning it into an Arab-majority state.
The organizers of the "March of Return" have clearly stated that this is a driving force behind the mass protests -- to send a message to the Trump administration that Palestinians will not accept any deal that does not facilitate their dream of replacing Israel with an Arab Islamic state.
The "March of Return" is also aimed at sending a warning to the Palestinian Authority and the Arab countries not to make any concessions to Israel or collaborate with the Trump administration.
Again, this is not what political analysts are saying. Instead, these are the exact words and phrases used by the organizers of the event. Their ultimate goal: to prevent Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority from returning to the negotiating table with Israel and to threaten Arab countries not to sign peace agreements with Israel.
Now, the organizers are telling us that the "March of Return" will continue and reach its peak in mid-May, on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel.
The "March of Return" is yet another phase in the Palestinian attempt to wipe out the presence of Israel in the Middle East, not about any blockade. The "March of Return" is an anti-peace campaign designed to thwart any attempt to achieve peace between Israel and the Arab countries.
The leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other groups that organized the mass protests are now complaining about the high death toll and accusing Israel of opening fire at "unarmed and peaceful" protesters. These are the same leaders who urged their people to head to the border with Israel and to try to force their way into Israel. These are the same leaders who encouraged their people to damage the security fence along the border with Israel. Did they expect the Israeli soldiers to greet them with flowers?
As for Mahmoud Abbas, he has supplied yet more proof of his towering hypocrisy. Hours after the violent confrontations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, Abbas appeared on Palestine TV to hold Israel "fully responsible" for the violence and death and injury of the protesters.
This is the same Abbas who recently told us that Hamas was a terror group that was behind the March 13 botched assassination attempt on his prime minister. This is the same Abbas who last year imposed sanctions on the Gaza Strip by suspending payments for electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip by Israel and suspending payments to thousands of civil servants there. Instead of condemning Hamas for sending the Palestinians to clash with the Israeli army and endanger their lives, Abbas chose to denounce Israel for protecting its border.
The Palestinian "March of Return" is being mistakenly referred to by some journalists and political analysts as a "peaceful and popular" drive by Palestinians demanding freedom and better living conditions.
Palestinians' living conditions in the Gaza Strip could be improved if the Egyptians only opened the Rafah border crossing and allowed Palestinians to leave and allowed Arabs and others to come and help the people there. Their lives could be improved if Hamas stopped building terror tunnels and smuggling weapons.
But, as has become evident by now, the "March of Return" is nothing but a declaration of war on Israel and the Trump administration.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.