“The leaders of these violent demonstrations, their struggle is not over the 1967 borders but over the very existence of Israel which they describe as a catastrophe that must be resolved,” said Netanyahu. “It is important that we look with open eyes at the reality and be aware of whom we are dealing with and what we are dealing with.”
“Israel Clashes With Protesters on Four Borders,” by Ethan Bronner in the New York Times, May 15 (thanks to Nichole):
JERUSALEM “” Israel’s borders erupted in deadly clashes on Sunday as thousands of Palestinians “” marching from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank “” confronted Israeli troops to mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation. More than a dozen people were reported killed and scores injured in the unprecedented wave of coordinated protests.
At the Lebanese border Israeli troops shot at hundreds of Palestinians trying to cross, killing 10 protesters and wounding more than 100, the Lebanese military said.
In the Golan Heights, about 100 Palestinians living in Syria breached a border fence and crowded into the village of Majdal Shams, waving Palestinian flags. Troops fired on the crowd, killing four of them.
Every year in mid-May many Palestinians mark what they call Nakba, or the catastrophe, the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the start of a war in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes through expulsion and flight.
But this is the first year that Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon tried to breach the Israeli military border in marches inspired by recent popular protests around the Arab world. Here too, word about the rallies was spread on social media sites. […]
At day”s end, as a tense calm returned to the country”s borders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said the day”s protests were aimed not at creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel but at destroying Israel.
“The leaders of these violent demonstrations, their struggle is not over the 1967 borders but over the very existence of Israel which they describe as a catastrophe that must be resolved,” he said in a televised statement. “It is important that we look with open eyes at the reality and be aware of whom we are dealing with and what we are dealing with.” […]
A 16-year-old from Bethlehem, Amjad Abu Taha, who joined thousands in the West Bank city of Ramallah near the main military checkpoint to Israel, seemed to illustrate the point.
“This is war,” he said, a rock in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “We”re defending our country.”
Nearby, hundreds of Israeli troops using stun guns and tear gas roamed the area.
In Gaza, a march toward Israel also resulted in Israeli troops shooting into the crowd and wounding dozens. The Hamas police stopped buses carrying protesters near the main crossing into Israel, but dozens of demonstrators walked on foot and reached a point closer to the Israeli border than they had reached in years.
Later, in a separate incident, an 18-year-old Gazan near another part of the border fence was shot and killed by Israeli troops when, the Israeli military says, he was trying to plant an explosive.
The chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said on Israel radio that he saw Iran’s fingerprints in the coordinated confrontations although he offered no evidence. Syria has a close alliance with Iran, as does Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon, and Hamas, which rules in Gaza.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, Israel Radio’s chief Arab affairs analyst, said it seemed likely that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was seeking to divert attention from his troubles caused by popular uprisings there in recent weeks by allowing confrontations on the Golan Heights for the first time in decades.
“This way Syria makes its contribution to the Nakba day cause and Assad wins points by deflecting the media’s attention from what is happening inside Syria,” he added. […]
There have been calls on the Internet by Palestinian activists for a mass uprising against Israel to start on May 15. A Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, had gathered more than 300,000 members before it was taken down in March after complaints that comments posted to the page were advocating violence.
In Egypt, political organizers have worked for weeks to rally Egyptians around the idea of a third intifada. In Lebanon, activists have urged people to mark the event with a protest at Maroun al-Ras. Posters went up on Lebanese highways reading, “People want to return to Palestine,” playing on the slogan made famous in Egypt and Tunisia, “People want the fall of the regime.”
Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. Israelis celebrate the anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar, which this year was last Tuesday.
An Israeli military spokesman, Captain Barak Raz, said that Israeli troops at the Syrian border fired only at those infiltrators trying to damage the security barrier and equipment there. Some 13 Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded from thrown rocks. […]
The fact that protesters made it to the border in Lebanon and Syria raised questions about whether those governments had at least tacitly endorsed the action.
Lebanese officials said the protesters received permission from the Lebanese Army to enter the area around Maroun al-Ras, which is classified as a militarily sensitive region. But military officials said they tried to keep the protesters behind a fence on the Lebanese side of the border, and prevent them from reaching a second fence on the Israeli side.
Hezbollah was believed to have helped coordinate the march. A field hospital affiliated with the group, the Martyr Salah Ghandour Hospital, which operates in Bint Jbeil, a large town in southern Lebanon, was present at the scene.
In Syria, dozens of checkpoints safeguard the border area, which has been relatively peaceful since a truce in 1974. The arrival of hundreds, or thousands, would require, if not government permission, at least an official willingness to look the other way.
A Syrian dissident, citing accounts from residents in Damascus, said pro-government Palestinian groups had begun busing people to the border on Saturday night….