It was the presence of mind and calm restraint of a small contingent of IDF reservists that prevented thousands of Palestinian “refugees” from turning “Nakba Day” into a deadly debacle. On May 15, the anniversary of the official start of the War of Independence, which Palestinians refer to as the “catastrophe,” the mobs that overran the border fence separating Syria from Israel had undoubtedly hoped to provoke Israeli soldiers to open fire and produce “martyrs” for the cause.
But Golan regional brigade commander Col. Eshkol Shukran demonstrated optimal restraint, in keeping with the orders of his superiors. Though the reservists had been surprised, were understaffed and lacked sufficient non-lethal crowd control equipment, Shukran and his soldiers nevertheless noted that the infiltrators were mostly unarmed men and teenage boys.
They faced a difficult dilemma: Should soldiers and other security personnel positioned along the borders protect Israel’s sovereignty at any cost, even if it meant mowing down dozens of unarmed protesters and being exposed to international censure as well as the potential demoralization of soldiers and police saddled with the task? Or should security personnel avoid killing unarmed demonstrators, even if it meant allowing the border to be temporarily trampled, running the risk of encouraging even larger mass infiltrations in the future that could lead to a complete breakdown of Israeli sovereignty?
Shukran and his soldiers limited fire to a minimum and aimed only below the waist. Casualties were kept to a minimum; two demonstrators were killed. About 100 demonstrators managed to breach the border fence and make it into Israel. Almost all were quickly returned, though one managed to make his way to Jaffa before he was apprehended. Some attention was focused on the “martyrs,” but plenty, too, on these great-grandchildren of Palestinian refugees’ blatant and provocative violation of Israel’s sovereignty.
ONCE AGAIN Israel faces this dilemma as those same groups gear up on Sunday, June 5, to commemorate the Naksa (“setback” in Arabic), which like the Nakba is the Palestinian lamentation of Israelis’ stubborn refusal to be wiped out by the combined armies of the Arab nations – this time in the 1967 Six Day War. The Naksa, like the Nakba, has become the rallying cry on Facebook and other Internet forums, as well as in the Arab media, for overcoming the “Zionist entity” – not through suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings, firebombs or other explicitly violent means of terrorism as in the past, but rather by flooding Israel’s borders with thousands of Palestinian “refugees.”
Few if any of these people can reasonably be defined as refugees since they have never set foot in Israel, let alone been expelled. They are, instead, the descendants of the several hundreds of thousands who left Israel after Palestinians failed to snuff out the Jewish state at birth and who paid the price of their leadership’s disastrous mistakes and foolish intransigence. Unfortunately, few if any Palestinian leaders – PA President Mahmoud Abbas included – have been willing to face the verdict of their failures, nor have they had the courage to tell these ”refugees” that they will never recover the homes and orchards of their imagination. Palestinian refugee descendants have instead been living on a vague idea of restoration and return, carrying with them – either figuratively or literally – the old keys to their families’ former homes in Acre, Jaffa and Haifa.
Israel might now again be forced to confront these “refugees” on its
borders clamoring to “return” to their homes. As the Naksa anniversary
approaches, the IDF is taking special precautions. A
barbed-wire-protected trench has been dug along the Golan Heights
security fence at Majdal Shams, where Col. Shukran and his reservists
were overrun. The IDF Northern Command has ordered soldiers on the
Syrian and Lebanese borders to follow the usual rules of engagement
before opening fire.
First a warning is to be shouted, then soldiers are instructed to shoot
into the air, and finally, if protesters continue to approach the
border, troops are ordered to direct nonlethal fire, below the waist.
Tear gas, stun grenades and other crowd control devices will also be
It is essential that Israel prevent its borders from being breached by
crowds intent on advancing a political agenda that calls for the
destruction of the State of Israel. But in the coming days, as the
Palestinians’ distorted historical narrative is commemorated with the
marking of the Naksa, security personnel should also remember the
presence of mind and calm restraint displayed by Col. Shukran and his