May 30, 2011
On May 15th, thousands of Palestinian demonstrators, the majority refugees coming from Syria and also from Jordan and Gaza, rallied on the Golan Heights, near the Syrian-Israeli border, as well as the Lebanon-Israeli border. They demonstrated in remembrance of the day 63 years ago, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were chased from their lands, their villages, their homes, at the time of the establishment of the state of Israel.
In East Jerusalem – where a 16-year-old young man was killed – and even in the streets of Tel Aviv, Israeli Arabs, the descendants of the exiles of 1948, demonstrated in big numbers, despite a prohibition on demonstrations, demanding the end of the occupation of the territories and the discrimination they suffer and demanding the “right of return to Palestine.”
This year, demonstrators were especially numerous, encouraged by the revolts spreading throughout the Arab world and infuriated by the apartheid-like situation that has lasted for several decades. In the Golan Heights, hundreds of refugees from Syria even began to cross the border crossings. The Israeli army tried to prevent them by opening fire. Its intervention against young demonstrators armed with Palestinian flags ended in the death of 15 people, and 300 wounded, according to the head of the Israeli general staff, who admitted on the radio that it was a “bad toll.” Even people in Israel were shocked by the images of soldiers armed to the teeth, shooting on young demonstrators, sometimes at point-blank range, as well as the massive deployment of military force, like the seven extra battalions sent to the occupied West Bank.
Beyond this territorial dispossession and this massive expulsion, called by the Arab world the Nakba – the catastrophe – the demonstrators protested Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pending visit to the United States, as well as the insupportable situation imposed on the inhabitants of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Successive Israeli administrations have pursued the policy of Israeli settlements and Netanyahu encourages the progressive eating away at the territories by new settlements. As a result, East Jerusalem has been emptied of its Arab population, with Palestinians often obliged to live in illegal structures due to the small size of the so-call “authorized” zone.
The Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz (The Land) recently spoke of “ethnic cleansing” to characterize the pursuit of the policy of settlements in the West Bank. It revealed that between 1967 and 1994, the state of Israel used a tortuous but systematic technique to reduce the Palestinian presence in the West Bank. It consisted of revoking the right of residence of Palestinians who went abroad for studies or a job, by giving them provisional travel documents good for six years, in exchange for handing in their identity card. Not warned of the risk they ran in the case they came back late, they lost their right of residence. This strategy alone reduced the Palestinian population in the West Bank by 14% during that time.
Following the May 15th demonstrations, the Prime Minister decided to release 87 million dollars in taxes due to the Palestinian Authority that had been frozen to “punish” Mahmoud Abbas for his reconciliation with Hamas. The Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on television that he feared that the protest would spread and not only to the borders.
The Palestinian population, denied its right to existence on their own land, has many reasons to spread its anger.