Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in multiple locations on Friday in the annual “Land Day” protest, although the scale and violence of the incidents were both reduced from similar border protests last year. The day was far from peaceful, however. This year’s marches included an attempt to reach the Gaza security fence with Israel, resulting in injuries and one reported death, while rioting occurred at the West Bank Qalandiya checkpoint that leads to Jerusalem.
Nonetheless, Friday’s events failed to repeat last year’s mass border marches in May and June in which numbers of Syrians, Gazans and Lebanese attempted to enter Israel. The violence in 2011 resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen protesters.
This year, IDF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitch told The Mideast Update that the borders were “quiet,” despite media reports of thousands of protesters inside neighboring countries.
“I believe that there was major disappointment among the organizers of the so-called march, but from our point-of-view the most important thing is the safety and security for our people and that the borders will remain protected.”
That calm with Israel was not the case in the West Bank or Gaza. Leibovitch said some Palestinians did try to reach the Erez crossing that links Israel and Gaza, with the IDF ultimately using tear gas and firing shots in the air and ground to disperse the protesters. She said some Palestinians were injured in the incident.
“There were some dozens of Gazans trying to reach the Israeli side. We fired in the air to keep them away and then towards the ground,” said Leibovitch. Later in the day Ynet reported that one man was killed as a result of the Erez incident, noting as well that injuries occurred in a separate attempt to reach the Gaza security fence.
The security situation between Israel and Gaza is similar to a national border with an enemy neighbor country, and Israel takes it very seriously. The IDF has had to prevent a number of terrorist infiltration attempts from Gaza to Israel over the years.
The WAFA Palestinian news agency said Hamas had actually planned that protesters would not get near the security fence in order to prevent violence, although some apparently approached the fence anyway.
In the West Bank in Qalandiya, the IDF Blog said hundreds of Palestinians participated in the protest, with Leibovitch saying the supposedly peaceful plans of the organizers deteriorated into rioting.
“Despite previous declarations of the organizers that these are quiet riots, eventually we found ourselves in the situation of hurling rocks, hundreds of people burning tires and so on. So this is something that, of course, was not quiet at all,” said Leibovitch.
Israeli security responded with “usual riot dispersal means,” according to Leibovitch, mainly tear gas, as well as water cannons. Some Palestinians were injured, with Leibovitch saying most of the injuries were due to tear gas inhalation. One Israeli border policeman was injured when he was hit with a rock.
Rioting also occurred in Bethlehem and the Hebron area, with the IDF Blog saying Molotov cocktails were hurled by protesters in Bethlehem.
Leibovitch praised the “great restraint” of the Israeli security forces in the face of the protests.
“The IDF soldiers, as well as the other security personnel, were very well prepared for any possibility of extreme violence from the part of the protesters,” said Leibovitch. “I believe that this deterrence also worked and kept them away, at least in trying to keep their amount of violence on the low side. And I also think that we also improved ourselves in a few issues since last year.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 30, 2012)