Clashes with Israeli troops in Jerusalem as Palestinians mark 64th ‘Nakba’ Day

Israeli Arabs hold Palestinian flags as they ride horses during a Nakba rally near the Israeli-Arab town of Umm el-Fahm. (Reuters)

Clashes broke out early on Tuesday between Israeli police and stone-throwing demonstrators in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, an AFP correspondent said, as Israel braced for possible unrest when Palestinians commemorate the exodus of hundreds of thousands of their kin following the foundation of the Jewish state in 1948.

Israel also said a projectile fired from Gaza landed in the country’s south, though it was unclear if it was linked to the Nakba Day commemoration.

“An explosive device fired from the Gaza Strip, a rocket or a mortar shell, landed early this morning in southern Israel, causing no injuries or damage,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Last year, Israeli troops opened fire on demonstrators from Lebanon and Syria as they tried to breach a security fence and enter Israel. Four protesters from Syria were killed along with another 10 from Lebanon. Hundreds were wounded.

Delegates of Neturei Karta, Orthodox Jews opposed to Zionism, hold a banner as they arrive at the opening of the “International Conference in solidarity with Palestine” in Beirut. (Reuters)

Nakba Day, marked annually on May 15, is normally marked by protest, and often by clashes with Israelis in the Palestinian territories.

“We are coordinating with the military and border police, we hope things will be quiet,” Rosenfeld told AFP on Monday. “We have mobilized a number of units in various areas,” he said, without elaborating.

Palestinians traditionally mark on May 15 the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” when hundreds of thousands of them fled or were expelled from their homes in the war that accompanied Israel’s declaration of independence.

Mass rallies planned

Tuesday’s main rally is slated for the West Bank city of Ramallah, but demonstrations are also expected by the nearby Ofer military prison and Qalandia checkpoint.

A mass rally is scheduled to take place in the Gaza Strip around 0800 GMT, with smaller protests to be held elsewhere in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, on his part, is launching a marathon especially in lieu of Nakba Day.

More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.7 million with their descendants -- fled or were driven out of their homes in the Arab-Israeli war which accompanied Israel’s establishment.

Around 160,000 Palestinians stayed behind and are now known as Arab Israelis. They number about 1.3 million people, or some 20 percent of the population.

A senior military official in Israel’s northern command said troops had trained to handle all situations, although they were not aware of plans for any big demonstrations along the borders as happened last year.

“We are getting ready for all kinds of provocations,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The Israel Defense Forces are preparing for a tough situation, the soldiers are getting special training and the right weapons to stop provocations, without killing people,” he said, indicating they would be equipped with riot control gear.

“It’s when they catch you unprepared that people can die.”

Calling for a general strike

An undated handout photo of the artwork by artist Khaled Jarrar, a ‘State of Palestine’ postal stamp. (Reuters)

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which represents Arab communities in Israel, called for a general strike and for Israeli Arabs to go to displaced Palestinian villages.

The committee said that this year’s Nakba events were also in solidarity with the “struggle of our brave prisoners in the Israeli prisons.’

On Monday evening Palestinian prisoners reached a deal with Israel to end a mass hunger strike by inmates, in exchange for better conditions.

The prisoners’ agreement constitutes a sort of achievement for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, too. The Palestinian security services played a significant role in negotiations that led to the deal, and they will earn their popularity accordingly among public opinion, according to Israel’s Haaretz daily. While Hamas did not lead the strike – it was led by the Islamic Jihad – the Israeli agreement to allow family members from Gaza to visit prisoners does constitute another step toward disintegrating the Israeli policy of segregating the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Haaretz, the main winners in Monday’s deal are the inmates themselves and their leaders in prison, and accordingly, the headline article on Maan News Agency quoted an official describing the agreement as a “victory” for the prisoners and their families.

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