The rally on Thursday in the east of the besieged enclave saw people holding Palestinian flags and banners reading, “We won’t forget our homeland” and “We won’t forget our right of return”.
The Land Day demonstrations date back to March 30, 1976 when six unarmed Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during protests against Israel’s expropriation of large tracts of Palestinian-owned land.
This year’s event occurred again at a tense time, as Israeli settler-related violence targeting Palestinians has reached its highest levels since 2006.
On Thursday, the Israeli forces stationed across the fence in eastern Gaza fired tear gas canisters at dozens of young men on the other side, causing several of them to suffer breathing difficulties.
Addressing the crowd, Suhail al-Hindi, a member of the political bureau of Hamas, the group running the Gaza Strip, stressed that the resistance against the occupation would continue.
“Land Day carries clear messages to the Israeli occupation and its leadership represented in the current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, that Palestinians adhere to their rights, their land and their resistance,” he said.
“[Smotrich’s] claims that there is no history for the Palestinian people are just lies revealed by history that witnessed the Palestinian presence for thousands of years,” al-Hindi said.
In turn, Khaled al-Batsh, a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad movement, said “national unity in the field of confrontation is necessity in light of the changes taking place in the Palestinian territories and the world”.
“A national reference must be built in order to rebuild the Palestine Liberation Organization, so that it returns to its role for which it was launched, which is return, liberation, and fighting the occupier,” he said, referring to the umbrella political grouping that was formed in 1964.
Rally participant Um Ahmad al-Banna told Al Jazeera that the commemorative event means a lot to her.
“I came today to say that we’ll adhere to our right of return, no matter what we lost.”
The 47-year-old mother of nine has been using a wheelchair since being shot in the leg by Israeli forces in September 2019 while taking part in weekly demonstrations near the fence dubbed the March of Return. More than 200 Palestinians were killed in the 2018-2019 protests, mostly by Israeli sniper fire, with thousands more wounded.
“Since then, I have been suffering greatly,” al-Banna said. “The past four years were very difficult. The doctor decided to amputate my leg and they say there is no hope,” she added.
“My participation in the Return marches was completely peaceful, but the Israeli occupation deliberately used excessive force against us and against many young people who suffered from permanent disabilities since that time.”
Salem al-Sousi, 67, said he had been taking part in the Land Day commemoration every year.
“We’re just a few metres away from our occupied lands in 1948 and here we affirm our adherence to our right to return to our lands from which our fathers were expelled by the Israeli occupation,” he told Al Jazeera.
The Gaza Strip, home to more than two million people, has been under an Israeli-imposed land, sea and air blockade for the past 15 years. It has been dubbed the world’s largest open-air prison, with Palestinians needing Israeli army permits to enter and exit the Strip
Some 80 percent of the Strip’s population is dependent on humanitarian assistance, with residents also enduring regular power outages and high unemployment.
Al-Sousi said that no matter how much the Israeli occupation tries to impose more restrictions and blockades on people in the Gaza Strip, “these attempts will not succeed in making the Palestinians forget their right to return”.
“The situation in Gaza is very bad and the blockade is very severe. People live in poverty and humiliation,” he said.
“We protested for two years near the Gaza border to demand the right of return and the lifting of the siege, to no avail. It was a peaceful sit-in, but the Israeli army met us with bullets,” al-Sousi added.
“The Palestinian people, women, youth and children, cling to their right, and days will not make us forget our right of return.”