The principal demand of the protests is the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their own homes, villages and lands in present-day Israel. A majority of Gaza's population consists of unvoluntary refugees from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and their descendants. Israel has rejected any right of return.
Land Day is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians worldwide of events that unfolded on 30 March 1976. In response to the Israeli government's planned expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel, local Arab leaders called for a day of general strikes and protests against the confiscation of lands. In the ensuing strikes, six Israeli-Arabs were killed by Israeli security forces and about 100 others were wounded.
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 Human Rights Watch. 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 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.
In 2011, Ahmed Abu Ratima, a Gazan whose family originally came from Ramla, conceived the idea of mustering people to go peacefully to the separation barrier and call out for their right to return to the homes from which they had been driven, or had fled, in the past. This idea did not take root until 2018, when an event called the Great March of Return was prepared, which would consist of a 6-week period of regular pacific sit-ins, the start coinciding with the annual Land Day commemoration that began on 30 March and continues until 15 May, which mark two events in 1948 on the respective dates: the anniversary of Israel‘s declaration of independence, and Nakba Day, the day of commemoration of the mass Palestinian exodus during the Palestine war.
By March, Hamas, 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 "March of Return". While multiple factions have endorsed the protests, they have all participated under the shared symbol of the Palestinian national flag.
In February 2018, four IDF soldiers were injured by an explosive device concealed in a Palestinian flag placed on the Gazan border fence during a Palestinian protest.
In the week prior to March 30, the IDF arrested a suspect who crossed into Israeli territory from northern Gaza; 2 Palestinians were spotted near the now-defunct Karni crossing container port trying to set fire to army engineering equipment close to the security fence; a group of four Palestinians infiltrated Israel near Kissufim; and 3 Gazans armed with grenades and knives crossed the border and were captured some 20 kilometers (12 mi) from the border near Tze'elim.
On 25 March, the IDF fired some ten Iron Dome missiles to intercept what the IDF said was high-trajectory machine-gun fire from Gaza towards Zikim.