Israel’s four borders were invaded by thousands of Palestinians and Palestinian supporters Sunday, who marched from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank on the anniversary of Israel’s independence. More than a dozen deaths from the clash have been reported, as well as several injuries according to the New York Times.
Protesters entered Isreali-controlled Golan Heights by climbing over border fences and were confronted by Israeli troops. Protesters gathered momentum through social media, such as Facebook, and apparently received official support from Lebanon and Syria.
According to the Lebanese military, 10 protesters were killed along the Lebanon border and more than 100 were wounded after Israeli troops shot at Palestinians who were attempting to cross. Israel said it is investigating the deaths.
Syrian border shootings resulted in four deaths, where approximately 100 Palestinians broke through a border fence and rushed with Palestinian flags into the village of Majdal Shams.
In the West Bank, several people were injured according to local media officials after 1,000 protesters throwing stones, some firecrackers and an occasional molotov cocktail clashed with Israeli riot troops.
Several more people were wounded along the Gaza border, where marchers crossed a security zone. Protesters heading from Jordan and Egypt were halted by government security forces and were unsuccessful in reaching the border.
The anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the war during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes is marked every year in mid-May by Palestinians, who call it the Nakba, or catastrophe.
This is the first year they have marked the anniversary by attempting to cross Israel’s military borders. They were apparently inspired by the recent protests and uprisings taking place throughout the Arab world.
“The Palestinians are not less rebellious than other Arab peoples,” said Ali Baraka, a Hamas representative in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said the protests were an effort to destroy the country, not one to create a Palestinian state.
“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.”
Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas praised the efforts of the protesters and said that those who died were heroes.
“The blood of the Nakba fatalities was not spilled in vain,” he said. “They died for the Palestinian people’s rights and freedom.”
A Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada was taken down in March for its encouragement of violence, but not before it had gathered more than 300,000 members. It had called for a mass uprising against Israel to begin on May 15.
Political organizers in Egypt worked for weeks to rally Egyptians to join the third intifada, while activists in Lebanon hung posters along highways that read “People want to return to Palestine.”
Both the Lebanese Army and the Egyptian government set up efforts to prevent protesters from crossing the Israeli borders. However, protesters in Lebanon said they received permission from the army to enter the border area near Maroun al-Ras, raising suspicions that the government supported the event.
The United Nations peacekeeping force called for “maximum restraint on all sides in order to prevent any further casualties.”
Israelis celebrate the anniversary of their independence based on the Hebrew calendar, which this year was last Tuesday.