10,000 Gazans March on Nakba Day, 65 Injured in Clashes With Israeli Forces

Palestinians also marched across the West Bank to commemorate the 'catastrophe,' the Palestinian term for the displacement in 1948

Palestinians gather during a protest marking the 71st anniversary of the Nakba, east of Gaza City, May 15, 2019.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Sixty five Gazans were injured Wednesday as Israeli security forces used live fire, tear gas and skunk spray against 10,000 protesters commemorating Nakba Day along the Gaza border, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported. 

Sources also reported that the Israeli navy fired at a Gazan fisherman from Al-Shate refugee camp. He was evacuated to a Gaza hospital.

Among the 65 injured are 22 minors and five women. One person is in serious condition, 15 are in moderate condition and 49 were mildly injured. Sixteen were wounded by live Israeli fire, 14 by rubber bullets, and the rest from gas inhalation or other forms of trauma.

One Palestinian was arrested attempting to cross the border from Gaza into Israel. No weapons were found on the suspect's person, and he has been taken in for questioning by the security forces.

Nine fires have broken out in the Gaza border region as the result of incendiary balloons launched from Gaza. According to Eli Cohen, the firefighter spokesperson, some of the fires were quite large, and one was burning in the middle of a forest, but all were put out by Fire and Rescue Service personnel.

Protests in Gaza to mark Nakba Day, May 14, 2019.
AFP

Firefighters, aided by squads from the Jewish National Fund, Israel Society for the Protection of Nature and the military, are working on extinguishing the blazes.

Marches also took place in Ramallah and Bethlehem. Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi attended the march in Ramallah, alongside Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

The committee organizing the protest called protesters to begin dispersing near the end of the daily fast, as part of the holy month of Ramadan, around 7:30 P.M. local time.

Addressing the Trump peace plan, Tibi said, "Every Palestinian boy says no, the Palestinian president says no. Without Jerusalem, without a state, without autonomy and rights and the return of refugees, the Palestinian people say no." He added: "Neither Israel's nation-state law nor the Trump peace plan can annul the Palestinian narrative and the popular struggle for liberty and freedom."

A Palestinian demonstrator holds an anti-U.S. President Donald Trump sign during a rally marking the 71st anniversary of the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's independence in 1948, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 15, 2019.
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Hamas' Finance Ministry said it would pay on Thursday salaries to public sector employees receiving 2,000 shekels ($560) or less.

The Nakba, or "catastrophe," is the Palestinian term used to describe Israel’s founding and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 war. Nakba Day is generally observed by Palestinians on May 15, the day after the Gregorian calendar date of Israeli Independence Day, and is marked by wide-scale marches. 

On Tuesday, the organizing committee of the Great March of Return in Gaza called on Palestinians to participate in Nakba Day demonstrations but called for restraint. Committee members said that monitors will be deployed to prevent any mass movement toward the border fence with Israel. 

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Israel anticipates that Hamas members will not allow the protests to spiral out of control, but are aware that the demonstrations serve the Palestinians' public relations interests, especially while European reporters are in Israel to cover the Eurovision Song Contest.

The Israeli military is doing everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties, it said, and has instructed soldiers to open fire only with the explicit permission of the Southern Command, unless they are in mortal danger, to prevent harming Hamas and Islamic Jihad members.

Palestinians take part in a rally marking the 71st anniversary of the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's independence in 1948, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 15, 2019.
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Last year’s Nakba Day protest merged with a demonstration against the U.S. embassy's move to Jerusalem. Out of the approximately 40,000 Palestinian protesters, 61 were killed and 1,200 injured in 12 locations along the Gaza border. With this in mind, the IDF is assessing the possibility of an escalation this year – which Hamas and Islamic Jihad will use for media attention, and fire rockets into Israel. The military has already deployed Iron Dome air defense systems throughout the country.

“We don’t want to give the Israeli military forces any excuse to hurt our young people, and we don’t want to increase tensions in the border region,” committee member Talal Abu Zarifa told Haaretz. The organizers also called for a general strike on Wednesday.

The Palestinian decision to restrain the protests is linked to the cease-fire deal struck between Palestinian factions and Israel earlier this month, which put an end to the most intense flare-up between Israel and the Strip in five years. As part of the deal, Israel opened Gaza crossings earlier in this week, and expanded Gaza's fishing zone to 12 nautical miles.

Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi and United Nations envoy Nikolay Mladenov held talks in Gaza this week with Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh and other senior officials. Mladenov said Sunday that he "hopes all sides would do everything in their power" to preserve the calm, at least in the coming weeks, in order to complete all the planned projects. "We need cooperation from all sides – the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel – to work towards improving the lives of Gaza's civilians and for the hope for a better future for them."

Last week, after the last round of fighting in Gaza, senior IDF officials assessed that the broad airstrikes Israel carried out in the Strip will win them a few weeks of calm – and that there is a need for a complementary policy to guarantee long-term quiet.

The officials said that it is not within their power to guarantee that Hamas will follow the same calls for restraint, and will not disrupt Eurovision or fire rockets at Israel.

Within the intelligence community, the prevailing belief is that despite Islamic Jihad's participation in the cease-fire, if its members do not feel like they are receiving their fair share of funds and humanitarian aid coming into the Strip, they will not hesitate to attack.

A source close to Hamas told Haaretz that the financial agreements between Israel and the Palestinian factions have yet to be implemented in their entirety. Thus far, about 120,000 needy families have received $100 each, but there has been no decision yet to pay wages to Hamas officials who have not received their salaries in two months. After the two previous rounds of fighting, Hamas officials did receive their salaries as part of truce understandings. Gaza residents are now urging organization leaders via social media to pay officials’ wages by the end of May, at the close of the current month of Ramadan.

Almog Ben Zikri contributed to this report