Refugees in Palestine and elsewhere marked the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan Heights. On the frontier with the occupied Golan Heights, hundreds were injured and more than twenty were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire with live ammunition on the unarmed demonstrators.
The march was the second in less than a month, as hundreds demonstrated on the frontier with the Golan Heights to mark Nakba Day on 15 May as well. At that time, many refugees succeeded in crossing the fence into the Golan Heights, with one refugee reaching as far as Jaffa in search of his family’s former home.
Salman Fakhreddin is a political activist and the public relations officer of Al-Marsad, the Arab Center for Human Rights in the Golan (golan-marsad.org). Originally from the occupied Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams, where he still lives today, Fahrideen described to The Electronic Intifada what he saw yesterday, what the real threat to Israel is regarding popular demonstrations, and what message the demonstration sent to residents of the Golan Heights who are resisting the Israeli occupation.
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours: Talk a bit about what happened yesterday near Majdal Shams.
Salman Fakhreddin: Yesterday, hundreds of refugees from Syria — Palestinians and Syrians — marched to the ceasefire line near Majdal Shams in a place called the Valley of Tears. We usually use this place for families [living opposite of the ceasefire line] to meet each other and to speak to each other with loudspeaker on all days of the year. Yesterday, it was a demonstration in memory of the war of ‘67 and the occupation of the Golan, West Bank and Gaza and Sinai. When these people reached the ceasefire line, the Israeli forces were well prepared with snipers. They were there already and they began firing live bullets and they killed and injured hundreds of people. Twenty-three people were killed yesterday.
It is a blood harvest of the Israeli army. I think first they began shooting to kill and during the afternoon and at beginning of the night, they began firing tear gas and rubber bullets. It means that the Israeli army yesterday was standing on its head and thinking with its feet. They dealt with the issue in the opposite of a humanitarian way. They decided to kill people in order to frighten them not to continue with this demonstration because they are afraid of the delegitimization of the state of Israel and the Israeli policy in the international community.
On the other hand, the demonstration yesterday and the demonstration of Nakba Day [on 15 May] is trying to develop a culture of nonviolence in the area, in the struggle against the Israelis, or what’s called the popular resistance. In Israel, they want to stop that because they are afraid it will reach the knowledge of the international community and the internal Israeli community will join this struggle as a peaceful struggle against colonialism and apartheid in this place of the world.
I think the idea was to stop that and because of that, they chose this way: to kill people first and then to shoot them with tear gas.
JKD: Israel has claimed that the protesters were a “security threat” to Israel, despite the fact that they were nonviolent and unarmed. What is the real threat, in your opinion, of these marches?
SF: The real threat is [that the demonstrations will hurt] Israeli legitimacy in the international community. This was [why the demonstrators chose a] nonviolent march and struggle. In Israel, they are afraid all the time of this illegitimacy because all their existence is illegal. They made with their own hands ethnic cleansing in Palestine and the Golan during the wars of ‘48 and ‘67. By their own hands, they changed the population of the place and they are putting settlers everywhere. By their own hands, they are confiscating the lands and they are trying to dismiss the culture and presence in the place. They are afraid all the time.
They use apartheid. They use ethnic cleansing, and they are using discrimination and inequality inside the State of Israel itself. In Israel there are 300,000 displaced Palestinians. They are Israeli [citizens]. They are carrying Israeli papers. They are carrying Israeli passports, but because they are Arabs, they are forcibly displaced from their own villages. They are internal refugees and until now, Israel didn’t recognize its responsibility for the refugees and the ethnic cleansing and the apartheid that is functioning in Palestine. They have to recognize that.
We have enough bloodshed in this place. We paid a high price of blood in this place. Yesterday [5 June], we paid a very high price of blood. It’s a psychological disease of the Israelis: to fire at people [with] snipers, you are seeing his face and you are trying to kill him because he is 100 meters from the fence. And it is not their land. The Golan is the Syrian territory.
JKD: Yes, many news reports stated that the shootings took place on the Israeli “border” with Syria, but the Golan Heights is Syrian, not Israeli, territory.
SF: Yes. I don’t say that, international law says that the Golan is Syrian territory. The Israelis fired at people in a Syrian territory and they killed them. All the war, all the killing yesterday, took place in the operation area of the United Nations.
JKD: How did residents in Majdal Shams feel when they saw the demonstration and the violence that ensued?
SF: We had two buses yesterday. We had a field hospital to treat injured people in case there were any. At the end of the day, we received a lot of tear gas and several people were injured and treated by our crews in the occupied Golan. It was sad to see others killed in front of us while we cannot give a hand to help or to support, except for political support. We felt very depressed. It’s very sad to see.
People here are Syrians and they want to be back in Syria. Or rather, they want Syria to be back in the Golan. It’s not a question because it’s Syrian territory. [It should be given back] in a peaceful way, not in war.
JKD: Can you talk about daily life in the Golan Heights and what challenges residents face there?
SF: The Israelis occupied the Golan in 1967. They forced people to leave their homes. The Syrians from the Golan number 500,000 refugees now. The Israelis [imposed on] them with 18,000 settlers who monopolize the resources of the Golan — the minerals of the Golan, the landscape of the Golan, the atmosphere of the Golan — which is against international law and international humanitarian law.
The Israelis divided the resources and the minerals of the place in a division of one to ten. This means I am an indigenous person of the Golan, I was born here and this is my land. I share ten percent of what we have in the Golan, if it’s water, if it’s land, if it’s landscape, if it’s health, if it’s education. And 90 percent is given to the settlers in the Golan.
This is what I say by apartheid and colonialism together. Colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid in one place.
JKD: What impact do you think the demonstrations on Naksa Day and Nakba Day will have on the residents of the Golan and elsewhere who are fighting for their rights under Israeli occupation?
SF: We have been trying for several years with the ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to develop a culture of nonviolence, to develop a popular struggle against Israeli colonialism here. This is the way to invite others to join, to demonstrate against the Israelis in their embassies, in their companies. In many cases, we can invite others to stop investing in Israel or to pull investments from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Golan.
This is the only way to gather an international struggle in peaceful ways. This is our duty as human beings and this is the duty of other free people in this world. To feel free, people have to help others to be free.
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jkdamours.com.