At least 12 have reportedly died and dozens were injured today as Israeli troops fired on protesters marching from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the Left Bank to mark Nakba Day, the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. Nakba means “catastrophe”; for Palestinians, the day commemorates the 1948 War in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to leave their homes and became refugees, says the BBC.
The marchers attempted to cross Israel’s borders in protests that appeared to be coordinated. Via a Facebook page, Palestinian activists had called for a mass uprising against Israel on May 15. The reports that another Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, had more than 300,000 members before it was taken down in March “after complaints that comments posted to the page were advocating violence,” says the New York Times.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, Israel Radio’s chief Arab affairs analyst, said in the New York Times that it seems likely that President Bashar al-Assad allowed confrontations on the Golan Heights for the first time in years as a diversion from the political unrest that have been going on in Syria for almost two months. Ben-Menachem added:
This way Syria makes its contribution to the Nakba day cause and Assad wins points by deflecting the media’s attention from what is happening inside Syria.
Thousands of Palestinian supporters from Syria entered the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. The Israeli military reports that Syrians “breached the Israel-Syria border near the Israeli village of Majdal Shams” and that Israeli forces “opened fire in order to prevent the violent rioters from illegally infiltrating Israeli territory.” says the Guardian. Four were killed and up to 20 injured.
At the Gaza border, at least 15 Palestinian teenagers, all under 18, were wounded when Israeli troops fired two tank shells and “several rounds from machine guns,” according to the Guardian. Protesters had approached the heavily fortified Erez border crossing.
In Lebanon, thousands of Palestinian refugees traveled from the twelve refugee camps in Lebanon where some 400,000 Palestinians live, to the southern border village of Maroun el-Rass, via buses with banners proclaiming “We are returning.” Hezbollah is believed to have helped coordinate the march, says the New York Times. Hundreds of Lebanese soldiers, UN peacekeepers and riot police were stationed in the area. A small group of Palestinian youths threw stones and were stopped by Lebanese soldiers.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at about 200 Palestinians and supporters marching towards the Qalandia crossing on the edge of Jerusalem. Unrest was also reported in East Jerusalem after the death of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy who had been shot in the stomach on Friday and died the next day.
Police were also on high alert within Israel. Earlier Sunday morning in Tel Aviv, an Israeli-Arab truck driver drove into a car, a bus and pedestrians, killing one and injuring many. While police described the incident as a terrorist attack, the 22-year-old driver claimed it was an accident.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel described the day’s protests as “aimed not at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel but at destroying Israel” in a televised statement:
The leaders of these violent demonstrations, their struggle is not over the 1967 borders but over the very existence of Israel which they describe as a catastrophe that must be resolved. It is important that we look with open eyes at the reality and be aware of whom we are dealing with and what we are dealing with.
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said the protests reflect the “urgency” for political action for Palestinians:
This just shows how much we need a solution to this problem. We cannot solve it with bullets. The Israelis believe that the older generation will die out and the younger one will forget. But this is political blindness.
The New York Times notes that “violence could return to define this conflict, which has been relatively quiet for the past two years.” In September, the United Nations is to put forth a request for declare Palestinian statehood.
The video below shows Nakba Day at the Qalandia refugee camp located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Photo: Map of Israel, Lebanon and Syria from Wikimedia Commons.