Palestinian Protesters Clash With Israeli Forces on Nakba Day

Three people said wounded after IDF fires at protesters on Gaza border; Palestinian protesters hurl firebombs at Hadassah Hospital, as police try to disperse hundreds marching toward West Bank checkpoint.

Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on Sunday for Nakba Day, an annual day of protests marking the creation of the State of Israel.

Dozens of Palestinian protesters gathered near the Erez crossing, the Gaza Strip's border with Israel's border, and at the Rafah crossing on the coastal territory's border with Egypt.

Palestinian rioters, Ayyash funeral
Emil Salman

A witness at the Erez crossing said that Israeli troops fired two tank shells and several rounds from machine guns at the approaching protesters. Medics said three people were wounded by gunfire. A witness said that the tank shells landed in an empty field several hundred meters from the marchers. There was no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

Earlier Sunday, demonstrators clashed with Israel Police forces in East Jerusalem, where a local teenage protester was killed over the weekend, allegedly by a settler. The demonstrators gathered at a gas station near the village of Isawaya, hurling rocks at the security forces. Ar least one protester was arrested during those clashes.

Palestinians demonstrating near Mount Scopus hurled firebombs at the back entrance to the Hadassah Hospital. Nobody was injured in that incident and there were no reports of damages.

In the West Bank city of Qalandiya, some 200 protesters began marching toward a local checkpoint. Police attempted to disperse those protesters by firing tear gas canisters at the demonstration.

Other protesters gathered near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank; Palestinian security forces were arresting some rioters, but letting other demonstration continue unhindered.

The IDF does not expect that the  events commemorating the Nakba will result in a conflagration in the territories. In spite of Palestinian declarations, the two days that preceded Nakba Day were not accompanied by unusual levels of protest.

The IDF assessment is that even the demonstrations in East Jerusalem - which followed the killing of 17-year-old Palestinian, Milad Said Ayyash, on Friday in Silwan - would not spill over into the West Bank. Ayyash's friends allege that he was shot by a man from a fourth floor window of Beit Yonatan - a settler building in the middle of Silwan.

The army boosted its presence in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) last week with a number of regular battalions and Border Police units, in order to be ready for the possibility that Palestinians' planned processions and demonstrations would spill out of the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

The soldiers and officers were given specific orders to avoid using live fire as much as possible, and were provided with large quantities of "less lethal weapons" and means for dispersing demonstrations.

However, senior officers in Central Command said last week that "the Palestinian security forces will be able to contain the events," and expressed confidence that they would prevent the demonstrators reaching areas under IDF control.

The events of the weekend have proven, for now, that the IDF assessments were correct. Like every Friday, Palestinians - along with members of the Israeli left and foreign activists - held a march and demonstration in a number of areas, included the villages of Bil'in, Na'alin, and Nabi Salah.

These protests are against the cutting off of farmlands by the separation fence and settlements, but the extent of the demonstrations wasn't out of the ordinary.

The level of violence was also not unusual and could be summed up by the throwing of stones, the firing of tear gas and a small number of lightly injured persons.

The IDF monitored the response of the PA security forces, especially in light of the reconciliation agreement that was signed between Fatah and Hamas 10 days ago.

They noted, with some satisfaction, that even though the Palestinian police allowed Hamas supporters to demonstrate in the area of Hebron under PA control, they prevented them from moving onto the area of the Jewish settlement in the city.

Palestinian police used violence to disperse Hamas supporters when the march turned into a demonstration.

There were few registered incidents of violent clashes between Palestinian civilians and the IDF on Saturday, and large events are expected in a number of Palestinian cities on Sunday.

Hundreds of police were deployed in the city and additional forces were brought in from other districts and deployed in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians claimed that, during the incident in which Ayyash was shot, the Border Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them as they tried to remove the fatally injured teenager.

Jerusalem police said they would launch an investigation into the killing of the youth, but said the fact that the family refuse to allow an autopsy is not contributing to the investigation.

Said Ayyash, the boy's father, blamed the Israeli government for the shooting: "This is not the first time that the government brought settlers into the middle of a crowded neighborhood," he said.

"This is not haphazard, but part of a policy. The situation in Jerusalem is very difficult and will continue to deteriorate due to the policy of the municipality and the government, who want to raze homes."

The Israeli left also linked the refusal of Jerusalem city mayor, Nir Barkat, to evacuate Beit Yonatan to the killing: "The killing of the youth is a direct result of the lack of willingness of the mayor to evacuate the home and to evict the settlers who took it over by force," said Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer.