On Nakba Day, thousands of Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon, as well as Gaza, marched toward Israel. On the border between the Golan Heights and Syria, the IDF was expecting the focus to be somewhere else, and by the time a handful of soldiers came to confront the marchers, some 150 of them managed to break through the wire fence and enter Israel.
The Druze village of Majdal Shams is right up against the border at that point, and most of those 150 spent a half hour or so in the village. Their welcome was mixed. Druze are a minority in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and well practiced in being good citizens in their homelands. Those on the Golan are in the difficult position of not knowing if Israel might someday return their village to Syria. Most have not taken Israeli citizenship, and unlike their relatives in the Galilee who have been Israeli citizens since 1948 with their sons drafted into the army, those on the Golan who are not citizens and not subject to conscription.
Once the first contingent of a half-dozen soldiers reached the point of crossing, they managed to stop the crowd. On the basis of videos taken by photographers who vastly outnumbered the soldiers, it appears that the troops shot at the legs of those intent on coming. There were a number of wounded, and claims of four dead.
The elders of Majdal Shams behaved with typically Druze quiet self-control, and escorted most of the visitors back to the border.
Two Syrian-Palestinians managed to hide in Majdal Shams for a day, and a third made it all the way to Jaffa.
Estimates are that a total of 16 Palestinians were killed by gun fire from Israeli soldiers or--in the case of those approaching the border with Lebanon--from Lebanese soldiers intent on avoiding an international confrontation.
Indications are that the biggest march was promoted by the Syrian government concerned to distract its population and international media from the bloodshed it is directing against protesting Syrians. Hizbullah provided organization and transportation for the march toward the Lebanese border with Israel.
All told, it was far from the liberation of Palestine or the realization of Palestinians'' right of return, but was enough to upset some commentators, and set the IDF planning for the next time.
Policy is not to overreact and create a bloodbath, but to prevent border crossings. Insofar as the confrontation is between a highly motivated but untrained and poorly organized crowd on the one hand, and a sophisticated and disciplined military on the other hand, the advantage is clear.
Among the actions we might expect are:
A more effective use of unmanned aircraft to cover potential lines of march so that there will be an appropriate contingent of soldiers waiting for those heading to the border.
An upgrading of the mine fields along the borders. As long as these are fenced, and intruders warned by signs in their language, the casualties should not upset those with a balanced concern about human rights and the importance of national borders.
Soldiers prepared to use an escalating use of weaponry, with deadly force not employed except as a last resort.
Along the way to deadly force might be massive use of tear gas, then ammunition meant to hurt but not kill.
The air force might fly over the swarm at very low altitude. A number of F15s at an altitude of 100 meters flying at full power should send most people running.
Artillery shells fired in advance of those approaching the border, meant to warn rather than injure.
Ultimately it may be necessary to use deadly force against unarmed civilians. If it comes after ample warning and less deadly efforts to stop a crowd, the presence of a marked border should be enough to persuade the reasonable about the propriety of Israel''s actions.
Will this tactic of mass movements of unarmed civilians toward the borders produced by Palestinians--no doubt to be joined by the morally convinced from Europe and North America--change the map of the Middle East?
Israel has shown itself to be sufficiently restrained while defending itself to remain off the agendas for sanctions and retaliations maintained by governments important to us. The mass marches of unarmed civilians will demand some care on Israel''s part. We can expect the young men who were pictured on our television screens this week to be joined by old men, women, children, and babes in arms. Efforts from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Jordan may be joined by West Bankers moving toward Israeli cities and Jewish settlements. Organizers will employ facebook, twitter and cell phones, invite the press, and expect videos to appear immediately on international media.
As in other confrontations, our future will be in the hands of 18-21 year olds along with older reservists, trained to be disciplined but willing to kill if necessary. The immediate orders will be given by young officers or reservists coming from their civilian jobs, responsible to a hierarchy of military professionals ultimately under the authority of the Defense Minister and Prime Minister.
The arsenal available is as sophisticated and deadly as anything in the world, but for these purposes infantry rifles may be the most deadly weapons used.
I would not join a crowd intent on overcoming that array.