Israeli confidence that Nakba day, marked by The Great March on May 15 in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel and neighbouring Arab countries, would remain under control, has backfired badly.
Nakba, or catastrophe day on May 15 commemorates 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 Israel Defence Forces (IDF) 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 borders 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 protestors from Lebanon and Syria were shot dead by the IDF, 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 territories and Israel proper, thousands of Israeli riot police and soldiers were placed on high alert in areas were clashes were expected. Limited number of IDF personnel manned the northern borders.
Egyptian and Jordanian security forces prevented hundreds of pro-Palestinian sympathisers from trying to cross into Israel. Egyptian police used riot dispersal methods against thousands of demonstrators in Alexandria and Cairo protesting outside the Israeli embassy and consulate.
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 seriously wounded.
IPS spent the day at Qalandia crossing 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 young men clashed with hundreds of Israeli soldiers, riot and undercover police.
Burning tyres brought in by the truckload belched out black smoke which intermingled with clouds of teargas. Dozens of Palestinians were treated for teargas 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 Qalandia clashes, which went on into the evening, were marked by unrelenting waves of young men who would approach the checkpoint until pushed back by teargas and rubber bullets. An atmosphere of defiance was marked by what appears to be a new unity of purpose.
One of the masked protestors taking a break from the “frontline” 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 (Intifadah) is on the way,” Yazen, the owner of a windshield business, who spent six years in an Israeli prison during the first Intifadah 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 occupied 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 protestors 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 protestors came to the aid of their wounded comrades.
While saturation foreign and international media coverage in Qalandia 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 protestors.
During Friday's anti-wall protest in the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah a US citizen was shot directly in the head, from close distance, with a high-velocity teargas 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 metres, 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 kilometres 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 Intifadah, when the Palestinian Authority takes its case for statehood to the UN in September.
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