Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: September Knocks on Israeli Gates

Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM, Jun 6 2011 (IPS) - “September 2011 is knocking on our gates,” says an Israeli army officer who, under strict operation procedures, would not reveal his name. He was alluding to the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting expected to resoundingly endorse the Palestinian drive for recognition of statehood.

The officer was also literally referring to even more pressing events. On Sunday, hundreds of young Palestinians living in refugee camps in Syria marched towards the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights in an attempt to cross the “disengagement lines”. According to media reports emanating from Syria, 23 demonstrators were killed, hundreds more were wounded.

Israeli army officials refused to divulge their own count of the fatalities, arguing that since the incidents had taken place inside Syrian territory they couldn’t check the veracity of the information. The allegation was that Molotov cocktails hurled by the demonstrators had ignited a brushfire, provoking the explosion of anti-tank mines disseminated in the area.

Israeli military sources said that three infantry battalions were posted along the fence that separates the rugged area. Snipers were posted on high ground, and equipped with telescopes mounted on their assault rifles. For fears of infiltrations into the Israeli-controlled territory, soldiers had been instructed to use live ammunition procedures against the marchers: First warning shots in the air, then shots aimed at the legs, then ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders.

At another crossing point in the vicinity of the Syrian town of Quneitra where soldiers and demonstrators were at closer range, the troops fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas.

Arab social networks had called Jun. 5 the “Naqsa Day” or day of the “Defeat”, a day of protest in commemoration of the June 1967 War dubbed triumphantly in Israel as the “Six Day War”. Then, 44 years ago, the Israeli-Arab war brought about the start of the long Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands.

“Naqsa day” came in the wake of “Naqba day”, another commemoration of Israel’s troubled history with its Arab neighbours. “Naqba” is the “Great Catastrophe” endured by the Palestinians during Israel’s “War of Independence” that accompanied its May 8, 1948 declaration of statehood.

During that war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either forcibly removed by Jewish soldiers from their homes and land or were simply told by invading Arab soldiers to temporarily move away from the fighting.

Within a year, the majority of Arabs living in what used to be British Mandate Palestine turned into a minority on the land that became Israel; Three generations of Palestinian refugees, around four to five millions, are still scattered across neighbouring Arab countries, predominantly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. The estimated number includes refugees from the 1967 War.

When three weeks ago, hundreds of refugees living in Lebanon and Syria marched towards the fence. Israel was caught by surprise. Tens of demonstrators from Syria then infiltrated the Israeli side of the Golan. Fifteen demonstrators were killed on the Lebanese and Syrian side.

This time, the border with Lebanon remained quiet. The Lebanese Forces imposed a closed military zone on the area. Yet, the Israeli army readiness, and its successful determination at preventing infiltrations at all cost, came at a greater cost, in human life.

In incidents similar to those that occurred last month, hundreds of Palestinians confronted Israeli soldiers at the Kalandia checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. Scores were wounded. The Islamist movement Hamas kept Gaza demonstrators at bay.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the demonstrators were seeking to “challenge Israel’s sovereignty and undermine the borders of the country,” stressing that, “like every country in the world, Israel has the right and the duty to guard its borders and protect them.”

The statement tenaciously eluded the fact that the international community doesn’t recognise the territories occupied in the wake of the 1967 War as sovereign Israeli lands. In 1981, Israel unilaterally extended the administration and the law of the state to the Golan Heights, a de facto annexation declared as “null and void and without international legal effect” in a UN Security Council resolution.

Accusing fingers of “border provocation” were pointed at Syria and it leader. “Bashar el-Assad is trying to divert attention from the massacre that he’s carrying out against his own citizens,” said minister for home front defence Matan Vilnai.

Netanyahu staunchly opposes re-launching negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the “1967 borders”. Caught in the crossfire between preventing “Israel’s sovereignty” from being “challenged”, and exercising “restraint” when facing civilians, his government is bound to be facing ever more resolute defiance in the weeks and months ahead.

Another commemoration will take place in July. Fifteen ships carrying international activists will sail from Turkey towards the Gaza Strip in an effort to defy the siege still imposed by Israel on the embattled territory.

The activists will mark a similar attempt, that of the “Peace Flotilla”. In May last year, six Turkish activists were killed aboard the M.V. Marmara during a botched naval assault by Israeli commandos while the boat was in international waters.

On the 1967 border (the pre-“Naqsa”/post-“Naqba” ceasefire line), other confrontations regularly pit Israeli soldiers against Palestinian demonstrators, in Bi’ilin for instance, a flashpoint of Palestinian civil resistance against Israel’s separation wall established on lands beyond the line. And there are almost daily clashes in Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.

On Monday morning, hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators were still camped near the fence that cuts across Syria’s Golan, raising the concern that the area will become another bloody fixture of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict.

So, no wonder that the current low-burning, yet larger-scale Intifadah uprising is regarded by the nameless Israeli officer as a prelude to the gathering storm that’s expected to hit Israel in September.

 
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