What happened at the Great March of Return in 2018, when Palestinians tried a peaceful protest

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulOct 10, 2023 | 16:03

What happened at the Great March of Return in 2018, when Palestinians tried a peaceful protest

The Great March of Return, which took place from March 2018 to December 2019 in the Gaza Strip, was a significant and highly publicized series of peaceful Palestinian protests. These demonstrations were also known as the 2018–2019 Gaza border protests and aimed to draw international attention to several long-standing issues affecting Palestinians in the region.


The core motivation behind the Great March of Return was the demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the lands they were displaced from, which are now part of Israel.

Photo: Getty Images

This issue has deep historical roots, dating back to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Objectives of the protest

  • Return of Palestinian refugees: The primary demand was the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes, a right recognised by various international conventions.
  • End to the Gaza blockade: Protesters also called for an end to the land, air, and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, which severely restricted the movement of people and goods, affecting the daily lives of Palestinians in Gaza.
  • Recognition of Jerusalem: The protests coincided with the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which further fuelled Palestinian grievances.
Photo: Getty Images


The protests gained significant momentum, with the initial demonstration on March 30, 2018, attracting around 30,000 Palestinians. Subsequent Fridays saw larger gatherings, with at least 10,000 demonstrators participating.

Photo: Getty Images

These protests continued for several months and involved not only large-scale demonstrations but also smaller activities during the week.


Organisers of the Great March of Return consistently emphasised their commitment to peaceful protests. Most demonstrators stayed far from the Gaza-Israel border fence.

Photo: Getty Images

However, there were instances of violence, such as burning tires, flying incendiary kites, and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

Photo: Getty Images

Israeli response

The Israeli army responded with a heavy military presence, deploying tanks, military vehicles, soldiers, and snipers along the Gaza-Israel border.

Photo: Getty Images

The Israeli military proceeded to use excessive force, firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters, bystanders, journalists, and medical staff who were not an imminent threat.


The Great March of Return resulted in a devastating toll on civilian lives in Gaza, with hundreds killed and thousands wounded, including children, women, journalists, and medical professionals.

Photo: Getty Images

The injuries were often severe, with amputations and other life-altering consequences.


According to reports, a total of 223 Palestinians were killed during the protests. Among these fatalities were 50 children and 6 women.

Photo: Getty Images


A total of 30,398 people were injured during the protests. Among these injuries were 3,175 children and 1,008 women.

These included:

  • 6,857 live bullet wounds
  • 844 rubber-coated steel bullet wounds
  • 2,441 tear gas inhalation victims
  • And at least 136 cases of amputation

Journalists and medical professionals

Two journalists, Yaser Murtaja and Ahmad Abu Hussein, were killed, and 347 journalists were wounded.

Additionally, three medical professionals, including 20-year-old Razan Najjar were kiled, and 665 were wounded while providing assistance to the injured.


Use of force

Critics argued that Israeli forces used live ammunition and high-velocity military weapons in situations where protesters did not pose an imminent threat, raising concerns about the disproportionate use of force.

Photo: Getty Images

Legal implications

The international community, including the United Nations, condemned Israel's use of deadly force during the protests. A United Nations General Assembly resolution in June 2018 denounced Israel's actions.

Human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also criticised Israel's response.

The use of high-velocity military weapons against protesters who did not pose an imminent threat raised concerns about violations of international law, including the Geneva Conventions. Most of these cases were viewed as potential war crimes.

To this day, Israel has faced no repercussions for the events of the protests. 

Photo: Getty Images

The Great March of Return served as a powerful example of a non-violent protest movement aimed at drawing attention to long-standing Palestinian grievances and seeking international support for their cause. 

The casualties during the Great March of Return were a tragic and contentious aspect of the protests, highlighting responsibility to protect civilians during demonstrations and conflicts, even in times of war.

Last updated: October 10, 2023 | 16:03
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