Nakba marchers met with Israeli fire

Demonstrators are treated by medical personnel after inhaling tear gas at a Nakba protest at Qalandiya checkpoint, 15 May 2011.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

QALANDIYA occupied West Bank (IPS) - Israeli confidence that Nakba day, marked on 15 May in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel and neighboring Arab countries, would remain under control, has backfired badly.

Nakba day on 15 May commemorates what Palestinians call the catastrophe — the establishment of the State of Israel, during which hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians either fled or were driven out of their homes by Zionist militias to make way for the fledgling state.

Three days of mourning, marked by protests, demonstrations, marches and rioting culminated in a “The Great March Day” on Sunday. Thousands of unarmed Palestinian refugees marched on Israel’s boundaries from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

Dozens in Syria managed to scale the border fence and cross into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Approximately 14 protesters from Lebanon and Syria were shot dead by the Israeli army, which accused Lebanese forces of being responsible for the Lebanese deaths.

The crossings took Israeli intelligence and security officials by surprise. Expecting mass demonstrations within the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel proper, thousands of Israeli riot police and soldiers were placed on high alert in areas were clashes were expected. Limited number of Israeli military personnel manned the northern boundaries.

Egyptian and Jordanian security forces prevented hundreds of protesters from trying to cross into Israeli-controlled territory. Egyptian police used riot dispersal methods against thousands of demonstrators in Alexandria and Cairo protesting outside the Israeli embassy and consulate.

Hundreds injured in West Bank demonstrations

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians were injured throughout the West Bank and in Gaza. Israeli troops shelled and trained machine-gun fire on hundreds of unarmed Palestinians, many of them women and children, approaching Israel’s Erez crossing point in northern Gaza. One Palestinian was killed and dozens were seriously wounded.

IPS spent the day at Qalandiya checkpoint in occupied East Jerusalem. During the course of the day ambulances, their sirens screaming, raced backwards and forwards as they battled to negotiate the streets where up to a thousand Palestinian youths clashed with hundreds of Israeli soldiers, riot and undercover police.

Burning tires brought in by the truckload belched out black smoke which intermingled with clouds of tear gas. Dozens of Palestinians were treated for tear gas complications; some suffered seizures as doctors commented on the unusual strength of the gas. Dozens more Palestinians were treated for injuries from rubber-coated steel bullets, some shot from close range.

The Qalandiya clashes, which went on into the evening, were marked by unrelenting waves of young men who would approach the checkpoint until they were pushed back by tear gas and rubber bullets. An atmosphere of defiance was marked by what appears to be a new unity of purpose.

One of the masked protesters taking a break from the “front line” for a sandwich and water told IPS that he would fight the Israelis to the end.

“They want to kick my grandparents out of their home in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and we should just sit idly by? I don’t think so,” he told IPS.

“Another Palestinian uprising [intifada] is on the way,” Yazen, the owner of a windshield business who spent six years in an Israeli prison during the first intifada and whose brother is currently serving 17 years for military resistance to the occupation, told IPS as he watched the clashes.

Supporters of both major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, stood their ground as busloads of Palestinians from other cities and towns in the West Bank swelled their ranks.

Stores lining the streets were turned into makeshift medical clinics as Palestinian medical teams treated the wounded on the floors. The shopkeepers, committed to losing a day’s business, allowed protesters to take refuge from the bullets and gas while handing out water and tissues.

Enterprising housewives made the rounds with chopped-up raw onions and potatoes (teargas antidotes) which they handed out to those overcome by the gas, while protesters came to the aid of their wounded comrades.

American, Israeli demonstrators injured

While saturation of foreign and international media coverage in Qalandiya and other flashpoints probably ensured that Israeli security forces acted with some restraint, in other areas away from the media glare Israeli forces were accused of using intimidation tactics and vindictiveness while dealing with protesters.

During Friday’s anti-wall protest in the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, a US citizen was shot directly in the head, from close distance, with a high-velocity tear gas canister in what appears to be a deliberate attack by Israeli forces.

He sustained serious head injuries and was rushed to hospital. By Israeli law these high-velocity containers are meant to be shot in an upward arch from no closer than 40 meters, due to their lethal nature.

In the last few years several other US citizens have sustained brain damage and the loss of an eye from similar attacks. Countless Palestinians have been wounded and killed in other identical incidents.

An Israeli activist, whose arm was broken after Israeli soldiers shot him, had to walk several kilometers over rough terrain to get medical treatment after the Israeli commander in charge of Nabi Saleh forcibly prevented ambulances from reaching and evacuating the wounded.

Israeli military and domestic intelligence had predicted disturbances on Sunday but confidently stated they would be limited and not spiral out of control into anything larger.

They appear to be wrong on that account, with experts predicting the possible outbreak of a third Palestinian intifada, when the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority takes its case for statehood to the United Nations in September.

All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2011). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.