The army is making preparations to deal with demonstrations along Israel's borders in advance of Land Day on Friday. The day commemorates the deaths of six Israeli Arabs on March 30, 1976, in protest of Israeli government land policies.
Over the past several days, the Israel Defense Forces has finalized its instructions concerning circumstances under which soldiers can open fire along the borders and in the territories. It has also been decided that forces will be reinforced to a limited extent in some areas.
Although the IDF is prepared for relatively serious events, the current intelligence assessment in General Staff headquarters and at the Shin Bet security service is that demonstrators are organizing fairly limited activities at this point.
The current security preparations have drawn on the experience of three events last year: Nakba Day, marking the anniversary of Israel's establishment on May 15, 1948; Naksa Day, commemorating the anniversary of the outbreak of the Six-Day War; and last September's effort by the Palestinian Authority to secure recognition at the United Nations for an independent Palestinian state.
In all three cases, appropriate steps were carried out by the IDF Central Command and effective coordination was undertaken with the security forces of the Palestinian Authority to contain the situation and avoid large numbers of casualties. In the June and July incidents, however, demonstrators on the Lebanese and Syria borders were killed by the army as they attempted to storm across.
Preparations for Land Day have included readying crowd-dispersal equipment and the deployment of marksmen. In areas of the West Bank which are recognized areas of friction with the Palestinians, the so-called "skunk" devise, which sprays a particularly harsh-smelling substance at demonstrators, is being pressed into service.
Officials in the defense establishment are particularly concerned about what might occur on the Lebanese border. According to reports from Lebanon, the main demonstration is planned for the Beaufort area, north of the Israeli town of Metula. Israel recently approached the Lebanese government demanding that it help prevent demonstrators from approaching the actual border with Israel.
Israeli officials believe the Lebanese army does in fact plan to deploy in the area to head off possible bloodshed.
On the Syrian border, there are currently no signs that authorities in Damascus will be encouraging violent demonstrations, in contrast to events in May and June of last year, when Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was behind the protests.
In the West Bank, demonstrations are anticipated at known flash points during the past several years, including around the villages of Bil'in and Na'alin near the security barrier, the Qalandiyah checkpoint north of Jerusalem and the village of Nabi Saleh west of Ramallah. A special police presence will also be deployed at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, particularly because some protest organizers are describing the demonstration as an international march to Jerusalem. Some Fatah members are planning to take part in West Bank demonstrations.
Despite the intense attention preparations for Land Day have attracted on the Internet, there is no indication on the ground of a large-scale response to the call for protests in the West Bank or along Israel's borders. Nonetheless, a senior defense source told Haaretz: "The Palestinian Authority is looking for ways to again raise the Palestinian issue on the [world] agenda, and therefore it has an interest in protest that attracts attention on Friday."
The source also said that in the coming months other protest days are expected to be observed in the West Bank, including one in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on April 17.
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