Palestinians are planning to erect hundreds of tents near the Gaza-Israel border to demand the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homeland.
Such a demonstration, envisaging families camped out in the sensitive border area, could present a dilemma for the Israeli military that enforces a “no go” zone for Palestinians on land adjacent to Israel’s frontier fence.
Families are to set up hundreds of tents -- possibly thousands - for the protests running from March 30 to May 15, organizers said.
The dates for the demonstration have significance for Palestinians.
"Land Day" on March 30 commemorates the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.
May 15 is what the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or the catastrophe, marking when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled their land during the war that led to the creation of Israel in 1948.
Organizers said the families could stay in the tents for prolonged periods, with youth and community activities planned.
Ahmed Abu Ayesh, a spokesman for a coordinating committee, said plans were for hundreds or thousands of people to live in tents erected “at the nearest, safe point from the border”. The United Nations, Abu Ayesh said, would be notified of the rally.
A statement issued by the committee urged Palestinians in Gaza to take part in this “national project that endorses peaceful resistance as a new way to win our rights, foremost the right of return” of refugees to what is now Israel.
The demonstration has the backing of all political factions in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, which denied that it initiated the protest.
"This is a popular movement and has a peaceful, community-based nature supported by national and Islamic factions and resorted to after all other routes the Palestinians took did not bear fruit," Bassem Naim, a top Hamas official, told AFP.
"We expect the occupation to suppress it but it carries all responsibility."
Israeli media said the army viewed the event as a potential security threat, while authorities were concerned over how to respond if violence erupted with women and children among the protesters.
Last month, four Israeli soldiers were wounded when an improvised explosive device was planted along the Gaza border, apparently during a protest.
Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said the army was concerned that families could become involved in marches toward the border with Israel.
Army "officials are worried that any attempt to stop the people marching by force will severely damage Israel’s public image", it said.
"Officials are also worried about possible civilian casualties and about the possibility that the protests along the fence might devolve into armed conflict."
In the town of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian journalist got a jump-start on the protest, erecting two tents about 450 meters (yards) from the border fence, to promote the planned demonstration.
“I admired the idea,” Muthana an-Najar told Reuters, predicting that Israeli forces “will be confused about how to handle” the protest.