An initially peaceful Nakba Day protest outside of the Old City’s Damascus Gate in Jerusalem turned violent on Thursday afternoon when Palestinian protesters began throwing rocks at police and burning Israeli flags, resulting in five arrests.
Amid chants of “Allahu akbar” and “We will die for our al-Aksa,” hundreds of Arabs converged on the northern portal to the Old City to condemn the government and demand its withdrawal from the capital.
As protesters waved dozens of Palestinian flags and released hundreds of black balloons symbolizing “resistance,” Fadi Otham, a hotel security guard, said Jerusalem belonged to the Palestinians.
“We’re here to tell all the world that Jerusalem is Palestinian, will be returned to the Palestinian people, and will be Palestinian forever,” Otham said. “The Israeli government and soldiers don’t want us to tell the world that Jerusalem is Palestinian – they want it to think that it’s Jewish.”
Although he added that the capital was “for all the religions,” Otham made it clear that “the Palestinians will rule the city after we take it back” from Israel.
“The Jewish rule of this city will end, this I promise you,” he said.
Israa Tourkey, a 19-year-old east Jerusalem resident, also voiced anger at Israel.
“I’m here because we’ve had a bad situation for 66 years,” she said. “Between the separation wall and the transportation problems we have because of all the checkpoints in the West Bank, and the high unemployment because of the Israeli government, it’s unfair to us.”
Tourkey said many of the protesters did not have jobs and had been imprisoned “for no reason.”
“They’ll send a young person to prison for no reason for two or three weeks and only release them after making us pay them thousands of shekels,” she claimed.
Meanwhile, Aya, a teenager who requested that her last name be withheld, described the Nakba commemoration as an “important day” for Palestinians.
“Today is important because it’s the day that the Israeli people took our land, our houses and forced our families to leave,” she said. “We will continue to protest the occupation.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said heightened security measures were being implemented throughout the Old City, with special emphasis on the Temple Mount after Friday prayers, when Palestinians have been known to riot.
“Police units will be closely monitoring the Old City and the rest of Jerusalem to ensure order,” he said.
Things remained calm elsewhere in the Arab sector, and police saw a Nakba Day that was in stark contrast to previous years.
In Acre’s Old City, Arab Israelis held a demonstration that police said passed quietly.
Coastal District police said they did not deploy an especially large contingent for the event and had no concern that it might spiral out of control.
They added that they did not expect violent protests on Friday or over the weekend anywhere in the district, which includes towns along the coastal strip from Hadera north to the Lebanon border, including the Wadi Ara region.
Over the weekend protesters plan to hold events on both sides of the Green Line, including a “Day of Rage” in solidarity with Palestinians on a hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
Around 50 Palestinians in the southern Lebanese coastal city of Sidon marked Nakba Day on Thursday morning, the Lebanese Daily Star
Participants were set to march to Nakura, just 5 km. from Rosh Hanikra. Most came from the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon, waving Palestinian flags and calling for their right to return.
“The Palestinian people will never forget their right to return, and we are not ready to make any compromises over such right,” Youssef Ahmad, one of the organizers of the march, was quoted as saying by the Lebanese paper.Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.