Written by Rick Moran
Several hundred Palestinian and Syrian rioters rushed the border with Israel near the Golan Heights on Sunday, causing the Israeli Defense Forces to open fire to prevent infiltration of the Jewish State.
Other, smaller protests broke out in several places on the West Bank on what the Palestinians refer to as “Naksa Day,” or “Day of the Setback” — referring to the first day of the 1967 War. While the US State Department defended Israel’s absolute right of self-defense, it is clear that the series of protests were orchestrated by the Syrian government, whom the IDF believes was staging the riots in order to deflect attention from President Bashir Assad’s murderous crackdown on protesters in his own country.
Syrian state television broadcast the confrontation live, even allowing reporters access to the sensitive border area in order to witness the riot. Several busloads of Palestinians had been taken to two separate locations at the border, and were allowed to congregate without any interference from the Syrian police and army.
When the protesters attempted to cut through barbed wire on the Syrian side of the border near Majdal Shams, the IDF shouted warnings in Arabic via loudspeaker, announcing that anyone who tried to cross the frontier into Israel would “endanger their lives.” Israeli soldiers then fired their guns in the air trying to dissuade the infiltrators from advancing further. Finally, after protesters tried to cut through the last barrier, IDF snipers fired at the protesters’ lower bodies, the IDF reported. An IDF spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that it knew of 12 casualties.
There is no independent corroboration of the number of casualties. The state-run news agency SANA, a propaganda organ wholly owned and operated by the Syrian government, reported that 20 protesters were killed and 350 wounded, quoting a doctor working at the state-run local hospital. One Israeli government official was quoted as saying, “Damascus has a track record of not being precise with its data.”
The same official pointed out that President Assad has good reason to engineer a confrontation between the IDF and protesters while inciting violence that was sure to gain worldwide headlines. “One can only suppose that there was a decision taken in Syria to exploit the situation to change the subject from what is going on inside Syria,” he said.
What is going on is a slaughter. Human rights organizations say that 70 people were massacred on Friday in the city of Hama while dozens of other murders were reported among protesters in several other cities, including an unknown number of demonstrators killed in the city of Deir al-Zor when thousands rushed a square trying to topple a statue of President Assad’s father Hafez. A witness told Reuters, “The crowd reached President’s Square when it was met by…bullets from the security police and armored cars that had deployed there to prevent the ‘sanam’ (false deity) from being toppled.” The report rings true given the fact that the Syrian army deployed tanks to battle protesters in Hama.
As the violence escalates in Syria, President Assad appears to be striking out blindly in a desperate effort to deflect attention from a crackdown that human rights activists estimate conservatively has cost the lives of over 1,100 Syrian civilians. A major opposition website in Syria claimed that “Naksa protesters were poor farmers who were paid $1,000 by the Syrian regime to come to the border.” The group also claimed that the Syrian government promised $10,000 to the families of anyone killed.
The bused demonstrators, paid agitators, and the Syrian police and soldiers who stood by as the rioters made their way back and forth across the Syrian border make it clear that the protests near the Golan were a Syrian production from start to finish — the planned incitement of violence against the IDF designed to relieve pressure on the Syrian regime which is beginning to buckle under the weight of protests against it. No doubt, the Palestinians went along with this Kubuki dance in order to garner worldwide sympathy for their cause in the lead up to an effort at the United Nations this fall to gain recognition for an independent Palestinian state.
There were smaller protests at several places in the West Bank, with the most serious riot occurring near a checkpoint outside of Jerusalem. Several dozen protesters were hurt, but no fatalities were reported. There were other gatherings that were thwarted by the IDF before they could form. All in all, the protests did not reach the level of last month’s Nakba Day riots, as were anticipated.
There was no repeat of the violence from the Nakba Day protests along Israel’s border with Lebanon, as a surprising show of independence by the usually Syrian-friendly Lebanese army kept protesters from approaching the border. However, an Iranian delegation toured the border later on Sunday. The head of the cultural committee at the Iranian Shura Council, Gholam Ali-Haddad Adel said, “The purpose of our visit is to send the message to the Palestinian and Lebanese youth and the resistance that Iran stands by them” — a reminder of who is really calling the shots in Lebanon now.
The protesters received plenty of advance warning of the consequences for rushing the border from the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last Thursday that Israel had “the right and duty” to guard its borders against infiltration and promised “to act with restraint, but with the necessary decisiveness to protect our borders, our communities and our citizens.” Then, the prime minister gave another warning on Sunday before the protests began, saying, “I’ve instructed the security forces to act with determination, with maximum restraint – but with determination to maintain our sovereignty, our borders, our communities and our citizens.”
Throughout the day, paramedics on the Syrian side of the border requested a cease fire to clear the wounded. After granting one such request, protesters attempted to take advantage of the situation by trying to cut through the border fence. That ended the cease fire convention granted by the IDF.
At another location on the border near the abandoned Syrian town of Kuneltra, an infiltration was attempted by about 300 Palestinians and Syrians. Several land mines on the Syrian side of the border exploded when protesters tossed Molotov cocktails into no man’s land. An unknown number of demonstrators were injured by the blasts.
The State Department issued a statement that called for restraint by both sides. “We are deeply troubled by events that took place earlier today in the Golan Heights resulting in injuries and the loss of life,” the State Department said in a statement. “We call for all sides to exercise restraint. Provocative actions like this should be avoided.” But the statement also recognized “Israel’s right to defend itself” like any sovereign nation.
This will not be the last time that Israel is forced to exercise its right of self defense against these kinds of border incursions. Callously sacrificing their people, the Palestinian leadership and its allies in Damascus and Tehran sees its dead as props that can be trotted out before the international community to garner sympathy and support for its drive for a UN unilateral declaration of statehood. To that end, Palestinian leaders will spill as much innocent blood as it takes to convince the gullible — and reinforce the beliefs of those already disposed to hate Israel — that they should be allowed to slice the Jewish State into pieces in order to accommodate their ultimate goal of destroying Israel.