Written by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict(May 10-17, 2011)
Nakba Day was marked in the territories and Arab countries by mass marches, rallies, demonstrations and propaganda displays. In several locations the demonstrations became violent. In Tel Aviv, an Israeli Arab driving a truck plowed into vehicles, killing one Israeli civilian and wounding 18. The event is being investigated to determine whether it was a deliberate attack.
In the region of Majdal Shams in the northern Golan Heights, control of the situation was lost when demonstrators broke through the security fence, invaded Israeli territory and demonstrated their presence in the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Violent confrontations between the rioters and IDF soldiers resulted in the death of 4 rioters, and wounded soldiers and demonstrators.
A Palestinian child in Gaza City holds up a key, symbol of the Palestinian refugees' so-called "right of return" to the State of Israel, one of the Nakba Day events in the Gaza Strip (PALDF, Hamas' main forum, May 15, 2011).
Most prominent among the slogans heard at the demonstrations in the territories and Arab countries (echoed by Hamas and Fatah) was the call for the realization of the "right of return" of the refugees to the territory of the State of Israel, that is, the destruction of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist country. There were also calls for the "liberation of Palestine [sic] from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea by means of terrorism and violence [i.e., jihad or "resistance"].
On the morning of May 15, an Israeli Arab from the village of Kafar Qassem, drove a truck wildly through the streets of Tel Aviv, ramming into dozens of vehicles, traffic lights and lampposts. One Israeli civilian was killed, a 29 year-old man, and 18 civilians were wounded. He also caused extensive damage to vehicles and property. Passersby who thought there had been a traffic accident tried to help him, and they were attacked them as well.
During interrogation he claimed he had lost control of the truck and attacked the people who tried to help him because he panicked and feared for his life. However, those investigating the event are of the opinion that it was an event motivated by nationalistic feelings, based on the evidence, some of it photographic, brought in by civilians who were present at the time. However, the event is still under investigation (Haaretz, May 16-17, 2011).
On May 15, the anniversary of the 1948 founding of the State of Israel, Palestinian Nakba ("catastrophe") Day events peaked. May 15 marked the culmination of the plans for the day made mainly through social networks on the Internet and calling for protests in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and the Arab countries.
Events included mass marches, rallies, demonstrations, and propaganda displays. In some locations there were violent riots, mainly stone-throwing and confrontations with IDF soldiers. In the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the northern Golan Heights, Israeli territory was violently invaded by the demonstrators. However, in most areas the local authorities (or local sources of power) contained the events and prevented them from spinning out of control.
Most prominent among the slogans heard in the various focal points of the demonstrations, both in the territories and beyond, was the call for the realization of the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees to the territory of the State of Israel, that is, the destruction of the Israel as a Jewish state.
Events in Judea and Samaria were, in most cases, limited, especially because the Palestinian Authority security forces contained them successfully. In Israeli areas (East Jerusalem) demonstrators confronted the Israeli security forces.
The main rally in the Palestinian Authority was held in Ramallah, near the grave of Yasser Arafat. Thousands of Palestinians attended, including senior PA figures. Demonstrators carried black flags reading "There is no alternative to the "right of return." Mahmoud Abbas, PA chairman, praised the Palestinians in honor of Nakba Day and said that "the blood of the Palestinian shaheeds was not shed in vain." He said that the broad participation of Palestinians in the events showed that their "right is stronger than time," and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not be resolved without the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital (Wafa News Agency, May 15, 2011).
The focal point of the confrontations between demonstrators and Israeli security forces was in the Qalandia refugee camp, near East Jerusalem. A mob of 600 Palestinians threw stones and flares at Israeli soldiers and burned tires. The Israeli security forces used riot control equipment to disperse the mob (IDF Spokesman, May 15, 2011).
Other friction points were:
Hebron: Nineteen Palestinian youths were wounded in confrontations with IDF forces (Wafa News Agency, May 15, 2011).
In the village of Al-Walajeh, near Bethlehem, Palestinian youths confronted IDF forces and several of them were detained (Wafa News Agency, May 15, 2011).
A number of Palestinian youths confronted IDF soldiers near the village of Bir Zayt (north of Ramallah), throwing stones and burning tires. The IDF soldiers used riot control equipment to disperse the demonstrations (Wafa News Agency, May 15, 2011).
On May 13 protests were held in preparation for Nakba Day by residents of the neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem. The demonstrators confronted the Israeli security forces, which used riot control equipment to disperse them. During the events a 16 year-old Palestinian who was apparently throwing stones at a Jewish house in the neighborhood was shot and killed. It is not clear who shot him, since the Israeli security forces emphasized that they did not use lethal weapons (Haaretz, May 15, 2011).
Left: Masked Palestinian rioters use an ambulance as cover to throw stones at Israeli security forces in Qalandia. The IDF authorized the entrance of the ambulance to evacuate a wounded Palestinian (IDF Spokesman, May 15, 2011). Right: A masked Palestinian about to throw a flare at Israeli security forces in Qalandia (PALDF, Hamas' main forum, May 15, 2011).
Right: Palestinian children in uniform carrying toy rifles in a Nakba Day parade. Left: Palestinian demonstrators in Hebron (PALDF, Hamas' main forum, May 15, 2011).
The main friction point in the Gaza Strip was near the Erez crossing. There were violent confrontations between IDF soldiers and scores of rioters who assembled on the Palestinian side of the crossing. One rioter was killed and dozens were wounded (Haaretz, May 16; Safa News Agency, May 15, 2011). In addition, marches and small protest demonstrations were held throughout the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hamas figures stressed the so-called "right of return" in their Nakba Day speeches. Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, preached a sermon in honor of Nakba Day in the Al-Amri mosque in Gaza City. He said the following (Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, May 15, 2011):
This year's Nakba Day brought about encouraging, important changes which would "eventually lead to the withdrawal from and the end of the Zionist project on the soil of Palestine."
The last century was "the century of jihad" and jihad was not to be abandoned, even within the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.
No alternative to the "right of return" was to be accepted, and "anyone who waives the right is has fallen."
Ismail Haniya congratulated the recent regional revolutions, especially the one in Egypt, specifically calling them "Islamic revolutions."
Ismail Haniya asked the Arab countries to provide the Palestinians with "economic, propaganda and military" support so that they could liberate "Palestine" "from the sea to the river." He said that the Palestinians would not back down and would not recognize the Israeli "occupation."
The main arena of Nakba Day confrontations was in the Majdal Shams area of the northern Golan Heights. About 3,000 demonstrators, most of them Palestinians, assembled on the Syrian side of the border, having been organized and bussed in from Damascus and other locations, in our assessment with the knowledge and encouragement of the Syrian government. One hundred thirty-seven crossed the border and invaded the town of Majdal Shams, ran riot, threw stones and confronted IDF soldiers.
Four rioters were killed and about 40 were wounded. Thirteen Israelis, soldiers and civilians, were wounded. Coordinating with UN forces and with their aid, the invaders who had entered Israeli territory were returned to Syria, with the exception four, one of whom was captured the following day in Tel Aviv (IDF Spokesman, May 15 and 16; Haaretz, May 16; Reuters, May 15, 2011).
The main event in Lebanon was held near the village of Maroun al-Ras in the central sector of south Lebanon. Many demonstrators gathered and a ceremony was held. Towards its end several dozen demonstrators marched to the Israeli-Lebanese border and threw stones at the Israeli security forces; the soldiers opened fire. The Lebanese army also intervened, opening fire on the demonstrators to prevent them from invading Israel.
Ten people were killed in the confrontation and several scores were wounded, some of the apparently Lebanese army soldiers (BBC in Arabic, Al-Manar TV and Al-Jazeera TV, May 15; Haaretz, May 16, 2011).
In Jordan the Nakba Day events were organized by a group calling itself "the youth of May 15." On May 14 they organized a march which was supposed to reach the Allenby Bridge (a border crossing). The marchers were stopped by the Jordanian security forces (Gerasa News, Jordan, May 14, 2011). On May 15 hundreds of the group's activists marched to the village of Karameh, near the Allenby Bridge.
The marchers shouted slogans such as "A million shaheeds are going to Jerusalem" and "Against your will, Zion, [we] return," and called for the realization of the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees. The demonstrators confronted the Jordanian security forces, broke through police roadblocks and attacked policemen (Saraya News and Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, May 15, 2011). During the confrontations one demonstrator was killed and several dozen were wounded. On May 16 the group organized a demonstration of about a hundred people in front of the Israeli embassy in Amman.
Violent anti-Israeli demonstrations of thousands of participants were held throughout Egypt. They began on May 13, when thousands demonstrated in Tahrir Square. They called for "Egyptian unity" and "the liberation of Jerusalem," for the opening of the Rafah crossing and the realization of the so-called "right of return." At one demonstration the Israeli flag was burned. Anti-Israeli demonstrations were also held in El-Arish, Ismailia and Alexandria (Ma'an News Agency and Safa News Agency, May 13, 2011).
On the night of May 15 hundreds of Egyptians demonstrated in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, and tried to break into the building. They broke through the barricades and even reached the courtyard in front of the embassy. The Egyptian security forces used force to disperse the demonstration. Several dozen demonstrators were wounded, and 186 were arrested (Agence France-Presse and Al-Jazeera TV, May 16, 2011).
On May 16, following the events at the Israeli embassy, Al-Azhar University students affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood organized a protest watch in front of the university's administration building. They protested in support of the Palestinian struggle and demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. There were similar demonstrations at other universities (Al-Yawm Al-Saba'a, May 16, 2011).
Dozens of Egyptians demonstrated at the Rafah crossing and along the Israeli-Egyptian border. Egyptian and Palestinian security forces deployed in advance, and while some of the demonstrators were arrested. No confrontations were recorded between demonstrators and the security forces (Al-Yawm Al-Saba'a, May 15, 2011).
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, in an initial response to the events, said that while he had instructed the IDF forces to use the utmost restraint, Israel would not allow its borders and sovereignty to be attacked. He said that the demonstrations undermined the very existence of the State of Israel, and that using the term nakba [catastrophe] to describe the establishment of the State of Israel indicated that they considered it "a catastrophe that has to be righted" (Prime minister's website, Hebrew, May 15, 2011).
In the United States, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, aboard Air Force One en route to Memphis, Tennessee, said, "[W]e regret the loss of life, and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those killed and wounded. Israel, like all countries, has the right to prevent unauthorized crossings at its borders. Its neighbors have a responsibility to prevent such activity...We are also strongly opposed to the Syrian government's involvement in inciting yesterday's protests in the Golan Heights. Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government's ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country."1 (ITIC emphasis)
There has been relative quiet in Israel's south for the past month. This past week no rocket or mortar shell hits were identified in Israeli territory.
This past week between 229 and 285 trucks carrying merchandise entered the Gaza Strip every day. However, the crossings were not open during the customary hours because of Israel's Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day and the Palestinian Nakba Day.
On May 11 a new terminal was opened at the Kerem Shalom crossing for building materials, and 800 tons of materials entered the Gaza Strip. On May 12 deliveries were stopped because the international organizations operating in the Gaza Strip said their warehouses were full of building materials and had no room for more (Website of the Israeli government coordinator for the territories, May 17, 2011).
Egypt has begun implementing reforms in the operation of the Rafah crossing. Men under the age of 18 and over the age of 40 and women of all ages will be able to pass freely through the crossing. In addition, the list of those forbidden entrance [into Egypt] is forbidden will be reexamined (Al-Hayat, May 12, 2011).
After the death of Osama bin Laden was announced, demonstrations were organized in the Gaza Strip to denounce his killing. Most of the participants were young men from the local networks affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Among them were the following:
On May 3, 25 activists affiliated with Al-Qaeda held a demonstration near the Islamic University in Gaza City. They marched holding pictures and posters of bin Laden. There were also students who claimed they opposed global jihad ideology but were angry that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden and regarded him as having died for the sake of Allah [i.e., as a shaheed]. The Hamas security forces did not intervene in the demonstration (AP, May 4, 2011).
On May 7 several dozen operatives affiliated with the global jihad demonstrated against the killing of Osama bin Laden in Gaza City's main square. They held pictures of him, some of which bore the inscription "We are all your soldiers, Osama," and denounced the United States and Europe. The demonstrators confronted the Hamas administration security forces, who evacuated them from the square (Reuters, May 7, 2011).
Reminder: Immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, denounced the killing and his version of the American policy behind the struggle against Al-Qaeda and the war on terrorism.3
The Israeli Prime Minister States Willingness to Cede Territories for "A Genuine Peace"
At the opening of the Knesset's summer session on May 16, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu spoke at length about the negotiations with the Palestinians. He said Israel was ready for a peace with compromises and would parts of the homeland on the condition that it was a genuine peace (Haaretz). He said, "The root of the conflict is, and always has been, their refusal to recognize the Jewish state. It is not a conflict over 1967, but over 1948, over the very existence of the State of Israel."4 He added that there was a consensus in Israel on six basic issues:
First, that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people .
Second, that the agreement between us must end the conflict and end the demands from the State of Israel .
Third, that the problem of the Palestinian refugees will be resolved outside of Israel and not within its borders .
Fourth, that a Palestinian state only be established under a peace treaty that will not compromise the safety of Israel. It will be a demilitarized state and allow an Israeli [military] presence along the Jordan River.
Fifth, we to maintain the settlement blocs. Many of us agree that the settlement blocs must remain inside the borders of the State of Israel .
Sixth, that Jerusalem remain the united and sovereign capital of the State of Israel.
Senior Palestinian Authority figures were critical of the position presented by Netanyahu:
Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, said that the speech proved Israel did not want peace. He said its "preconditions are unacceptable" and that East Jerusalem had to be the capital of "Palestine" (Wafa News Agency, May 16, 2011).
Saeb Erekat, senior PLO negotiator, accused Netanyahu of having adopted "the policy of settlement and forcing the situation on the ground," and had chosen "the past, not the future." He claimed that an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley meant preserving the settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state whose borders were not those of 1967, whose capital would not be East Jerusalem and which would not be "empty of all Israeli presence."
On May 13 George Mitchell, American envoy to the Middle East, formally announced his intention to quit. Former United States Senator Mitchell was appointed to the position at the beginning of 2009, after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president. In July 2010 he said he wanted to quit at the end of the year, and has finally he was. President Obama appointed David Hale, Mitchell's deputy and former American ambassador to Jordan, as his successor.
Palestinian Authority reactions to his quitting were the following:
Fatah central committee's Nabil Shaath said that it would not change the peace process and that it was further proof that the United States did not want to invest a genuine effort in the process' success (Raya FM website, May 14, 2011).
PLO executive committee's Saeb Erekat said that Israel had caused Mitchell's efforts to fail because every time he came he was met with "an announcement of the building of a new settlement" (Chinese News Agency, May 14, 2011)
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority, told Mahmoud Abbas that Italy would upgrade the Palestinian delegation to "diplomatic mission" (Wafa News Agency, May 16, 2011). Thus Italy joins the list of countries which have upgraded the status of the Palestinian delegations.
The Upgraded Freedom Flotilla 2
The organizers of Freedom Flotilla 2 updated information about the flotilla on the Britain 2 Gaza website (May 9, 2011):
The flotilla will set sail during the third week of June.
The ships will depart from a number of European ports, including Marseilles.
A Swiss-German ship will join the flotilla.
Before the departure participants will conduct a campaign during which they will meet with senior officials of European administrations and representatives of the UN and other international organizations to get their support.
At least two leftist members of the European Parliament are planning to participate in the flotilla: Willy Meyer, a Spaniard, and Paul Murphy, an Irishman. While the flotilla sails, a group of European Union parliamentarians is planning to enter the Gaza Strip overland through the Rafah crossing, and to meet with the flotilla participants in the Gaza Strip (EU Observer, May 12, 2011).
Australian activists with connections to the flotilla's organizers said that the Australian ship participating in Freedom Flotilla 2 would be named Tahrir ("liberation") and carry 50 passengers from Australia, as well as some from Canada. The Australian organizers said interested Australians could join other ships (Palestine Relief Fund website, May 14, 2011).
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation, under the aegis of the Turkish IHH, said it would send a ship to the Gaza Strip on May 31, the anniversary of the events aboard the Mavi Marmara. It will drop anchor in El-Arish, and its cargo of 1,000 tons of building material would be loaded onto trucks and enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing (IHH website, May 14, 2011).
Negative Responses to the Planned Flotilla
Bernard Valero, spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said that the French government strongly advised Frenchmen not to board French ships "planning to break the naval closure of the Gaza Strip." He said that the French Foreign Ministry advised that humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip be transported overland in ways approved by Israel. Spain and Denmark also made similar recommendations to their citizens (islammemo website, May 17, 2011).
A group of American Congressmen sent a communiquÃ© to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan requesting him to devise a mechanism for cooperating with Israel on the issue of sending humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip without creating provocations and confrontations (Weekly Standard, May 12, 2011).