Map of the Gaza Strip showing the border proximity restrictions with Israel (as of December 2012)
No-go zone 100 metres (330 ft)
Access permitted by foot and by farmers only 100–300 metres (330–980 ft)
In 2005, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip and allowed the Palestinian authority to take control. Despite the withdrawal, Israel still maintains direct external control over everyday life in Gaza, such as the territory's air and maritime space, most of its land crossings, electricity and water supply and other utilities. According to HRW, Palestinians in Gaza still remain protected persons under the articles of the Geneva Conventions. 
Following the Battle of Gaza in 2007, Hamas took full control over the strip and expelled its rival and current ruler of the West Bank, Fatah. The takeover by Hamas has led Israel and Egypt to impose a land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip.
After the 2014 Gaza war, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has worsened. Hamas has struggled to manage the civil life in the Gaza Strip, and the new leadership under Yahya Sinwar has hoped to get the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza's civil issues, through the 2017 Fatah–Hamas Agreement, but the agreement failed. According to Israeli analyst Amos Harel, Hamas, which failed to lift the blockade for years, sought to use the protest as a means to get out its strategical crisis, as it found an armed conflict to be ineffective.
The Gaza Strip, measuring 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 sq mi) and with a population of 1.9 million, is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It is often described as the "world's largest open-air prison". The territory has a continuous shortage of food, water, power and medicine. In talks with Angela Merkel, Israeli PM Binjamin Netanyahu stated that the Palestinians were crashing the fence because they were 'suffocating economically', a situation he blamed on Hamas.
Near Gaza Strip's border with Israel in 2018
In January 2018, it was reported that 97% of the territory's tap water was undrinkable because of sewage pollution or high salinity levels, forcing Gazans to purchase water from local desalination facilities at excessive prices. The Palestinians are unable to pay Israel for the electricity it provides and, as a result, Gazans receive electricity only for to four hours a day as of 2017 which impairs the functioning of Gaza's health services. The Gaza Strip's unemployment rate reached 44% in 2017 (71% for women, 36% for men). It is reported that, 40% of Gazan children suffer from anemia and malnutrition. The despair from the economic and humanitarian situation, along with the inability to leave the territory has further contributed to public support and participation in the protests.
Gaza's "no-go zone" and border barrier
In late 2005, after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli military imposed a "no-go zone" on the interior side of the Israel-Gaza border in response to rocket fire from Gaza falling on Israeli towns. This zone restricts Palestinians from entering "about 17 percent of Gaza's territory, including a third of its agricultural lands", according to HRW. According to IDF, this is done "to prevent the concealment of improvised explosives and to disrupt and prevent the use of the area for destructive purposes."
The border fence between Gaza and Israel (the separation barrier) is composed of a crude barbed-wire barrier, a brief gap, and then a 10 feet (3.0 m) high "smart fence" with sensors to detect infiltrators. A crowd surging towards the fence could cross the fence in some 30 seconds according to one of the contractors who built it.
The principal demand of the protests is the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to present-day Israel. A majority of Gaza's population consists of refugees from the 1948 Palestine War and their descendants. Israel has rejected any right of return, fearing that Jews would become a minority in Israel if too many Palestinians returned.
In 2011, Ahmed Abu Ratima (or Rteima) whose family originally came from Ramle, conceived the idea of Palestinians going peacefully to the separation barrier and protest for their right to return to the homes from which they had been driven, or had fled, in the past.
In early 2018, Gazan journalist Muthana al-Najjar, whose family originally hailed from Salama, pitched a tent near the border, where he stayed for over a month, while others began planting olive tree seedlings in the area. He and others tried to keep the protest unaffiliated with Hamas or any other political group, but were overruled when Hamas took over the protest by mass mobilization of Gazans to join the march. Recruitment included calls on television, local media, social media and by word of mouth to join the protest. Hamas reportedly planned to keep the peace by having its security personnel dress in civilian clothes and move among the protesters to ensure no violence would occur. It gained support from Gazan intellectuals like Atef Abu Saif and graduates of Gazan universities, who are said to have drawn inspiration from the example of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
By March 2018, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the faction of Muhammad Dahlan (who was expelled from Fatah in 2011) had endorsed the protest.
The organizers of the event, including the local government authority, Hamas and various Palestinian factions, had encouraged thousands of Palestinians to converge on the Israeli border for the 42nd anniversary, in what was dubbed the "Great March of Return". While multiple factions have endorsed the protests, they have all participated under the shared symbol of the Palestinian national flag.