“Something’s Happenin’ and Ya Don’t Know What It is, Do Mr. Netanyahu?”
Last week, Israeli intelligence sources trumpeted the notion that Israeli Palestinian citizens and their West Bank/Gaza counterparts might plot an uprising around Nakba Day that they hoped would turn into a sort of civil war or perhaps Third Intifada. There were banner headlines about how Israeli forces were preparing to meet every eventuality and would deal with sternly with troublemakers and that the citizenry, by which they meant the Jewish citizenry, had nothing to worry about.
As always seems to happen with these things and Israeli intelligence, they were shocked when it turned out that the Nakba Day protests took on a life of their own when a private settler security guard in an illegally occupied home in Beit Yonatan shot a 17-year-old boy, Malid Said Ayash, who died shortly thereafter. Thereafter, all hell seemed to break loose, but in ways that the intelligence establishment hadn’t at all predicted. Protests were held by the usual suspects in the usual places in villages along the Separation Wall. But Palestinians and their sympathizers also massed on three other borders which had rarely before seen such demonstrations. Thousands trampled the border fences underfoot in the Golan, in Gaza, and on Israel’s Lebanese border and broke through the barrier. All who did so were unarmed, though the IDF has planted false claims that some were armed.
The army responded to these civilian protestors in the only way it knows how, it killed them, and in fairly large numbers (close to 20 dead in various rallies at various locations).
Since the numbers of protests and what occurred is so large I thought it useful to compile a compendium in order to better wrap our minds around developments and understand their possible meaning. The main question is: is this a blip on the screen of anti-Occupation activism or is this an ever intensifying level of protest which should deeply worry those Israel’s who maintain the Occupation? Is this the beginning of a Third Intifada? Or an Israeli version of the Arab Spring sweeping through Arab capitals from Cairo to Damascus? Or is it a one-hit wonder, part of an annual rite of Nakba Day protests which rock the Palestinian community each year only to subside after a day or so?
Given the number of deaths and numbers of frontline states involved (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine) it seems to me this is a new chapter in the resistance. A bold non-violent stroke that almost predictably has been met by the type of massive violent crackdown used by Arab tyrants like Assad who is prepared to mow down his own citizens in their homes in order to preserve his power. I have written numerous times here in the past few months that Israel in using such murderous tactics is showing itself to be no better than the dictators, despite the fact that Israel claims it is a beacon of democracy in an otherwise bleak authoritarian Mideast landscape. Responses like this prove otherwise.
Israel is used to fighting wars on one front and with difficulty has fought wars on two fronts. But if these developments heat up and take on a life of their own, this would be a movement on multiple-fronts the likes of which the country has never seen. Not to mention that so far, at least, the unrest seems non-violent and unlike any previous war-time scenario Israel has faced. It’s almost like Israel is entering an entirely new scenario which is not war and something different than an Intifada. Perhaps it’s a regional Intifada, rather than a purely Palestinian one–though the Palestine issue is fueling the protests clearly. Israel has laughably blamed Iran for the protests claiming as usual with no evidence that the protests “bear the mark of Iran.” When you’d rather deflect attention from the fact that non-violent demonstrators are acting against what they perceive as an unjust, oppressive system imposed by Israel on Palestinians, what better way to do it than invoke the bogeyman: Iran?
As I wrote in the first line of this post, there’s also another phenomenon stirring which Israel does not understand (Hebrew). Just as social networks helped organize protests and topple dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and brought others to their knees in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, the Nakba events also show evidence of a sophisticated use of digital technology (Hebrew) to mobilize for political action. In the eyes of the Israeli media, these groups show signs of a dastardly conspiracy by anti-Israeli agitators to organize the events and by implication, attempt to topple the Israeli regime. While most of the rest of the world tends to see such organizing in the way it viewed the Facebook Revolution which was brought to life in Tahrir Square: as legitimate expression of grievances long-held and never addressed. The truth of digital revolutions is they only work where the slogans resonate with the populace and injustice festers. Israel would prefer to see all of this organizing as the work of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, when the truth is that without the spark represented by Occupation there could be no conflagration.
Here are the protests I’ve researched (thanks for the assistance of Dena Shunra) beginning with those that involved deaths, moving to those in which demonstrators were wounded (with no deaths), and finally protests in which there was Israeli violence, but no dead or wounded:
In Majdal Shams (on Syria/Israel border), Ynet reports at least four Syrians were killed and dozens wounded by Israeli fire when thousands crossed the border in the Golan Heights and headed to Majdal Shams. The area was declared “closed military zone”.
In Maround Al-Ras and Naqoura, Ynet reports, according to Lebanese Al-Mustakbal news network, six Lebanese demonstrators were killed and 60 wounded by Israeli military fire, or by Lebanese military fire, according to Israel. In these situations I’ve found that IDF claims, when contradicted by credible counter-claims, are usually wrong. Given that Israeli forces killed demonstrators on two other fronts today, claiming they didn’t use lethal fire on the Lebanese border seems to stretch credulity. Reuters says ten killed. Maan provides higher figures of 14 killed, 112 wounded.
In Gaza, one man was killed, (Reuters reports two dead) at least 45 wounded (including a journalist and many children) when Israeli army used a tank to shell demonstrators by the fence.
Nonlethal, wounded demonstrators/soldiers:
In Ramallah, thousands took part in Nakba Day demonstration in Manara Square.
Nabi Salah: 25 Palestinian and/or Israeli peace activists & two Border Patrol soldiers wounded, 34 Palestinian and/or Israeli activists arrested
Al-Arob, Beyt Ummar, Bir Zeit, Annata: tear gas canisters shot at protesters. Israeli military claims that stones were thrown and tires burned.
Issawiya: approximately 60 Palestinian and/or Israeli activists arrested.
Bir’am: 9 arrested, unknown number wounded due to violence & mace according to Ran Cohen of PHR-Israel
Qalandia: 250 wounded, 40 seriously, 15 with a rubber-coated bullets, two from live fire. Also, from Hadas Ziv, Media Outreach coordinator for PHR-Israel: shooting at Kalandia. army goes into crowd, hits 2, and takes them on MDA ambulance into Israel. Dr. Moustafa Bargouthi from the Medical Relief told PHR Israel that there are 90 wounded, 10 seriously (head and abdominal from rubber bullets). Many are treated in Medical Relief field hospital. Recently they have started to use live fire. He also told us of mistaarvim (Border Police disguised as Palestinian activists who either provoke violence or arrest victims depending on circumstances) that are arresting demonstrators.
Leehee from Anarchists against the Wall notes another report from the scene: “I was among the medics from 12:30 till 13:30 and there were already dozens of injuries mostly light ones due to gas and rubber bullets.” she described how many ambulances come and go, evacuating around 50 people every half an hour. “At around 13:30 they [Israeli army] intensified the shooting, and at around 14:30 they started with live ammunition” – PHR-Israel report here.
Shuafat Refugee Camp, May 14th (but still relating to Nakba Day events): tear gas etc. in Shuafat. Palestinian paramedics are not allowed in.
Al Walaja: IDF Disrupts Nonviolent March–Prominent political analyst, author and professor, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh was arrested along with two other Palestinians as they protested in the village of Al Walaja, near Bethlehem, on 15 May 2011. According to Dr. Qumsiyeh’s press release, the three were arrested while participating in a non-violent march of civil disobedience towards the Green Line. As of six o’clock on Sunday night, Dr. Qumsiyeh was still in detention at the Israeli military compound close to Rachel’s Tomb.
According to reports, Israeli forces bombarded the protest in Al Walaja with tear gas, forcing protesters to find refuge in the village’s houses. Five more were arrested after IDF soliders raided homes. According to the press release, three Palestinians, one Irish and another international were arrested from homes.
The original village of Al Walaja was expelled in 1948 and gradually resettled across the valley, near Beit Jala in the Bethlehem district. The march today planned to march from the newly settled Al Walaja to the village’s original lands, which is now forested with a nature reserve.”
East Jerusalem: two days ago in a demonstration outside Beit Yonatan, a neighborhood in which settlers have illegally dispossessed Palestinian residents, a private security guard killed Malid Said Ayash, 17, with a bullet to the chest. Subsequently, dozens of people wounded (in dozens of reports).
Non-lethal force, no one wounded:
Acco/Acre: Dozens of youths waved Palestinian flags & called for the right of return. Israeli police forces confiscated the flags and detained one of the youths for interrogation.
Tel Aviv: Left-wing activists protested in the evening in support of the Nakba Day protests, flew Palestinian flags & chanted anti-military slogans. Local residents threw eggs at them from nearby windows, right-wing counter-protesters changed “Am Yisrael Chai”.
Out of control truck driven by Palestinian with Israeli citizenship kills one man [Avi Morag, 28], wounds 17 others, and damages or destroys 15 cars. The driver accused of being a Nakba Day attack, although he claims that his truck blew a tire and went out of control. In response, Tel Aviv residents demonstrated, demanding “Death to the Arabs.”
Jordan: Jordanian forces prevent protesters from reaching Israeli border, 20 wounded (both police and demonstrators).
Ran Cohen, head of PHR-Israel (Physicians for Human Rights) reports that he saw no evidence of protesters being armed (countering Israeli army spin claiming that there had beeen shooting from among them) on twitter,
Prominent Israeli peace activist and blogger, Didi Remez summed it up best here:
“I think the train wreck is no longer in slow motion.”