Watchman Newsletter

Syrian, Lebanese Protesters Storm Israeli Borders for Nakba Day

Bridges For Peace (Link) - BFP Israel Mosaic Radio - Joshua Spurlock (May 15, 2011)

Scores of Syrian protesters stormed the border in an attempt to infiltrate Israel on Sunday [May 15] during protests of the annual Nakba (catastrophe) Day, in which Arabs mourn the creation of the State of Israel and the Palestinian �refugee� situation. Incidents also occurred with the borders of Lebanon, the security fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria]. According to an [Israel Defense Forces] IDF press release, 13 IDF soldiers were injured in the northern incidents. In one of the most serious situations, the IDF said that hundreds of Syrian rioters were involved in the incident at the northern Israeli city of Majdal Shams and �violently rioted� against IDF soldiers.

IDF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, speaking with Bridges for Peace, said that hundreds of protesters ran to the border fence, with dozens of Syrians managing to initially infiltrate Israel. �I think it�s very serious, it�s very severe,� said Leibovich of the day�s border incidents. �These were not peace-lovers or NGOs [non-governmental organizations] or human rights supporters. These were violent people that were sent to infiltrate Israel, and it�s very severe. The fact that you cross the border of a country, of course it�s very severe.�

While the IDF was equipped with tear gas, Leibovich said, �this is not effective when we are talking about a mob of thousands.� As a result, the IDF had to use �selective fire,� but only on protesters Leibovich said would �endanger lives� or �ones that would serve a threat to the security infrastructure.� As of Sunday evening Israel time, Leibovich knew of two Syrian fatalities that had been recovered and returned to Syria as a result of the incident. Dozens were wounded. Leibovich noted that �selective fire� was used to cause as minimum a number of casualties as possible.

Leibovich pointed the finger at the Syrian government for allowing the protesters to storm the border, noting that �never in the past were they allowed by the Syrian authorities to reach so close to the border fence.� In light of that, Leibovich said that �it seems like they had the back-up� of the Bashar al-Assad regime, which is currently facing its own anti-government protests.

Haaretz quoted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling Israel TV Channel 2 of the Syrian incident that �we regret the deaths. Those responsible for this are those who attempted to violate Israel�s sovereignty and those who sent them, if there are any.�

Contrasted with Syria was Lebanon, where Leibovich said that the Lebanese military did forcefully try and contain the protesters there in at least one incident, including the use of live fire. In a separate Lebanese border situation, where protesters also tried to infiltrate the border, the IDF also had to use �selective fire.�

Leibovich was unable at the time to provide any specifics regarding casualties, or if there were any, at the time. Haaretz reported that some demonstrators were killed in the Lebanese protests, although who was responsible�the IDF or the Lebanese army�was disputed by the sides.

Gaza was also not immune from incidents. The IDF said a suspect was identified trying to place an explosive device along the security fence separating Israel from Gaza, with the IDF firing at him and identifying a hit. Protests and attempted infiltrations were also recorded at that security fence at the humanitarian Erez crossing with Israel. Leibovich noted the crossing is used for instances in which Gaza medical patients are transferred for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Overall, the IDF said that hundreds of Gaza protesters threw rocks at IDF forces, as well as causing damage to the Erez crossing structures. In response, the statement said that �soldiers fired in a controlled manner in the direction, and towards the legs of the leading rioters, in order to disperse them and prevent them from entering Israeli territory. A number of rioters were injured as a result.�

Underscoring the seriousness of Gaza incidents, the IDF said that �terrorist organizations are constantly operating with the objective to harm Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers, and have previously attempted to execute terrorist activities near the various crossings carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza.�

In the West Bank in Qalandiya, which is south of Ramallah, Leibovich said there were hundreds of rioters throwing rocks and fire bombs, while the IDF used riot dispersal means, such as tear gas. The IDF statement said that some rock-throwers were seen hiding behind ambulances for cover.

As of Sunday evening, things had calmed down. The incidents came following a Facebook campaign calling for protests on the day, a campaign that included �The Third Palestinian Intifada� page later banned by Facebook for incitement to violence. Leibovich accused Iran�s �extreme doctrine� as an influence behind the riots, which took place in several locations with ties to Iran.

In comments to Sunday�s cabinet meeting posted on the Prime Minister�s Office Web site, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu contrasted Arab violence with Israel�s founding promise 63 years ago of equality for all its citizens.

�We extended our hand in peace to our Arab neighbors and promised equality, progress and partnership to Israel�s Arab citizens,� said Netanyahu. �When one looks at the region today, Israeli Arabs are the only Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa that enjoy democratic rights, equality and civil rights.�

Noting that Israel spends hundreds of millions of dollars on its non-Jewish citizens, Netanyahu said, �I regret that there are extremists among Israeli Arabs and in neighboring countries who have turned the day on which the State of Israel was established, the day on which the Israeli democracy was established, into a day of incitement, violence and rage. There is no place for this, for denying the existence of the State of Israel. No to extremism and no to violence. The opposite is true.� �

Islam ~ Israel