One soldier, three border policemen and 270 Palestinians were lightly
hurt in clashes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem Tuesday as
Palestinians marked the 64th anniversary of the “Nakba,”
meaning “catastrophe,” which refers to their loss to Israel in 1948.
The violence, which occurred mostly in two spots on the outskirts of
Ramallah, near the Kalandiya crossing and in Beitunya by the Ofer
Prison, was not felt inside the city.
Hundreds gathered in Martyr Yasser Arafat Square for a midday rally.
The event mixed the sorrow of historical memory, the desire for
nationalism, and happiness over Monday night’s end to the Palestinian
prisoners’ hunger strike.
Children marched into the square beating drums and wearing black T-
shirts that read “1948.” Demonstrators carried black flags in
mourning for the destruction of their homes and villages.
Some held Arabic signs with the names of the villages. They also held
posters of Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Sa’adat, the secretary-general
of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine whom Israel
jailed for ordering the 2001 assassination of Tourism Minister
Family members of jailed prisoners sat in the protest tests set up in
the square. A large blue mock jail cell stood nearby.
Representatives of the Palestinian Authority, including Prime
Minister Salam Fayyad, led the rally in Ramallah as sirens sounded
for 64 seconds to mark the day. Clapping and dancing briefly followed
before speakers took the stage.
“The right of return is sacred and cannot be compromised,” Fayyad
told the crowd. He also stressed the need for a full Israeli
withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lines.
Wasel Abu Yusef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that
the “right of return” remained the essence of the Palestinian cause.
He said that the rights of the refugees did not go away with the
passing of time.
At the end of the rally, black balloons were released into the air.
Though some of them flew up to the sky, the wind blew many of them
under the cloth canopy set up over the stage.
Music blared from loudspeakers in the square as the rally dispersed.
In contrast, on the outskirts of the city, one soldier and three
border policemen were lightly wounded after rocks hit them during
demonstrations at the Kalandiya crossing and near Beitunya. Five
Molotov cocktails were thrown at the policemen near Beitunya, and
police bomb squads destroyed an explosive device.
In Beitunya, near Ofer Prison, clashes continued into the late
afternoon. Demonstrators filled the paved road leading toward the
prison. While many simply milled about, a group of teens and young
adults, many with keffiyehs over their faces or around their necks,
engaged the security forces by throwing rocks and pushing burning
tires in their direction. At times, black smoke billowed into the air.
The IDF and Border Police responded by shooting rounds of tear gas
and rubber bullets.
The tear gas canisters made white streaks in the air before landing
in clouds of smoke that sent protesters running. But within minutes,
they returned. In some cases, demonstrators threw themselves on the
ground, overcome by the gas, as medics treated them and lifted them
in waiting ambulances.
In a field off to the side, some teens threw rocks at a small group
of soldiers, while demonstrators and reporters watched from a gas
station parking lot.
Near Ni’lin, some 30 demonstrators gathered and tried to break
through a nearby IDF checkpoint. The army detained two demonstrators.
Several dozen people also protested near Bethlehem and Hebron.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Palestinians threw stones at Israelis
praying at Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. Police dispersed the
attackers. There were no injuries in the attack.
At a checkpoint near Hebron, Palestinians hurled stones at security
forces. IDF soldiers and Border Police dispersed the riots, and no
damages or injuries were reported.
In Nablus, events unfolded peacefully as hundreds of Palestinians
marched toward the offices of the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), chanting slogans in favor of
the “right of return.” Representatives of the protesters delivered a
letter to the UNRWA heads urging them not to cut their aid to the
refugees and to support their struggle to return to their former
Nablus governor Jabareen al- Bakri said that the Palestinians had
been waiting for 64 years for the international community to
implement UN resolution 194, which, he claimed, calls for
compensating Palestinian refugees and returning them to their homes.
Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip also took to the streets
to participate in rallies and marches marking the day.
East Jerusalem was mostly quiet on Tuesday, with the exception of
clashes in the Isawiya neighborhood, near The Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. Five people, including one youth, were arrested in an
early morning operation.
A number of children, some as young as five, hurled stones at
security forces for hours after the arrests. There were no casualties.
About 150 people protested peacefully outside the Old City’s Damascus
Gate on Tuesday evening, chanting, “We sacrifice our lives and souls
for Palestine,” and “We are all the prisoners,” referring to the
hunger-striking prisoners who ended their strike on Monday. The
mostly young protesters, many holding cardboard keys, briefly
surrounded an Egged bus on its way to The Hebrew University, but
there was no violence.
“We came here to show Israel and everyone that we will never, ever
forget Palestine, the whole Palestine,” said Shahd, a 22-yearold
chemistry student at Al-Quds University. Shahd said that while she
was disappointed by the lack of international protests compared with
last year’s Nakba Day, she understood that many of the Arab countries
were dealing with their own upheavals.
“We are disappointed, but there’s a revolution,” she said. “All of
the focus is on the prisoners… [they made] a victory for all of us
and for all Palestinians around the world.”
Palestinian sources said at least 270 people were hurt in the various
demonstrations, mostly from tear gas inhalation.
Outside of the West Bank and Gaza, Nakba Day protests in the Arab
world were relatively muted.
In Lebanon, a smattering of Palestinians and members of the ruling
Future Movement demonstrated outside UN headquarters in Beirut.
Plans for a rally in Cairo apparently did not materialize. Still,
Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh praised
Palestinians incarcerated in Israel who had waged the weeks-long
hunger strike demanding better prison conditions.
“We congratulate our brothers the Palestinian prisoners in the jails
of the Zionist occupation for their steadfastness in their victory
over the enemy in the battle of the empty gut,” he said. “We support
the continued struggle to meet all their human rights, and... to
defend themselves and wage resistance against the occupation.”
He said Egypt had changed since the days of president Hosni Mubarak,
when it was “a military ally of the United States and a strategic
treasure for the Zionist entity.”
The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper quoted the candidate as saying
Israel had been founded on “ethnic cleansing and apartheid”: “For 64
years the Zionist entity has only been a model for blatant
discrimination between people on the basis of religion and race, and
on the denial of democracy.”
Abol Fotouh – a former top Muslim Brotherhood official who, along
with ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa, is one of the most likely
candidates to replace Mubarak – said he fully supported the
Palestinian “right of return” to land now in Israel.
“We support... the right to return to homes and villages from which
they were forcibly displaced – in Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and
other parts of Palestine,” he said.