Salman Fakherldeen, 57, of Majdal Shams, is the public relations officer of Al-Marsad, the Arab Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Golan. On Sunday, after young Palestinians crossed into his town over the Syrian border, turned into the liaison with the group's leaders and promised to keep them safe.
He views the events of Nakba Day in Majdal Shams, during which four of the Palestinians were killed, as a historic day that has long-term implications. We spoke to him yesterday.
What is the mood in the town today, now that you have had a chance to process Sunday's events?
"Today is the day after. The incident became the talk of the town and will presumably remain so for a few more days, even though the residents have returned to their daily routine. Everyone went back to work - in the orchard, the repair shop, wherever they earn their living. Today I am still upset over the deaths and the dozens more who were hurt. The shots fired at them were unnecessary. It was brutality that serves no purpose, apparently that is the routine of the soldiers. I think there was no need to fire; later the army apparently realized this and acted appropriately, but from the beginning other behavior was warranted that could have avoided the deaths."
How will the incident affect the lives of the people of Majdal Shams?
"It was as if the clock turned back, to 1948. I remember the village then full of refugees expelled from their homes, walking in the opposite direction, toward where their children and grandchildren came from on Sunday. I can really hear the echo of past history. For me, it is a major event, primarily given that our organization works with one headed by Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This association strengthens our desire to move the struggle to a nonviolent phase. That creates a just fight for a better future. It is impossible to continue squabbling here forever; otherwise we will become extinct, just like the dinosaurs. There is enough room on the land here for all. After all, there is more land here than in Singapore. I say to the Israelis, racism and colonialism no longer have a place here."
Were you surprised by what happened here?
"There was definitely surprise, and when I saw the young people walking toward the fence I also felt fear, because they were walking through a minefield. I was standing right across, watching the crowd marching toward Majdal Shams and I worried about their safety. Three months ago my son was killed in a car accident, and I didn't want to see a child step on a mine and die. I was very scared. If they had asked me beforehand, I would not have wanted them to cross the fence, out of concern for their safety. In the end they managed to get across, as we saw, but I'm convinced that the death of the two [sic] who were killed was not worth it, two more families have joined the family of the bereaved.
"The sight I saw amazed me and really brought tears to my eyes. Images flashed through my mind of refugees leaving their homes. The youths who came here are third-generation refugees who want to return to their homes. I saw 12-year-old boys here, which is an amazing thing; it really reawakens all the history and all the awareness each person has with regard to the concept 'refugees.' In Israel, people evacuated from the Gaza Strip are being treated by psychologists; perhaps you could try to understand the trauma of the Palestinian refugees? Look, the youths did not forget the experience of their parents and grandparents."
In the end, Israel Defense Forces soldiers showed restraint; do you appreciate this decision?
"At first they fired massively but afterward they toned things down, luckily for us and for them, and helped to find the middle road. In the end, a reasonable solution was found and we made sure to return all the youths to Syria via the fence, a solution the army agreed to. The army did not know how to digest this situation; after all, in the past they were able to stop individuals who tried to cross the fence. Apparently, the events in Tunisia and Egypt had an effect on what happened on Sunday. It's also an incident that allows for steam to be vented, and an incident that occurred against a different backdrop. It's a new era. If we develop the concept of nonviolence and democracy, we will realize that this is the right and appropriate solution."
In Israel, there have been claims that the event was the idea of the Syrian authorities. Do you agree?
"It's very cynical to think that. It is possible that it was overlooked by the Syrians, but you must realize that the Nakba Day events were planned for several months in all sorts of places around the world, like every year. The difference this year was that it was more popular and spread more quickly. The events in Syria certainly had an impact on what happened here; it's a kind of translation of those same events."
Do you think the incident will affect tourism in Majdal Shams?
"First, you must realize that tourism is not the main industry here. The Mount Hermon recreation site is the biggest source of income in the area. As far as possible damage, I don't think there will be any, because no one here has anything to fear; there is no war going on here. There are always fears and prejudices, but it is possible to deal with everything."
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