Police break up demonstration near Lebanese border

Shoving matches break out along generational lines among protesters who want to confront police and reach Lebanon border, those who don't.

By
May 16, 2011 02:13

Police remove protesters near Baram Forest 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

 
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Riot police and border policemen used tear gas, stun grenades and pepper spray to disperse a “Nakba Day” protest near the border with Lebanon on Sunday, arresting six demonstrators in the process.

No officers or demonstrators were hurt.

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Around 100 mainly young people from Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Beersheba took part in the rally outside the Baram Forest northwest of Safed.

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The protesters, two of whom were waving Egyptian and Syrian flags, came in six buses on Sunday morning in an attempt to reach the Lebanese border, and to make some sort of contact with the thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese who had marched to the fence of the other side.

Baram Forest was as close they could get, though, as the IDF had declared the areas next to the Lebanese and Syrian borders a closed military zone, following the breaching of the fence earlier in the morning near Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights.

The protest outside the Baram Forest was organized by a youth group, and according to organizers, was largely inspired by the recent, largely youth-led popular uprisings in the region.



Haitam Ibrahim, 25, from the Balad party, said his group called for the demonstration on the border around a month ago, because “people are already very sick of the usual protests, where they go and yell and then go back home.”

Ibrahim, who said he is against a two-state solution and supports a “one democratic state” resolution to the conflict, said the real target of the protests wasn’t Israeli Arabs, but rather, “to reach out to the Arab world and to human rights activists around the world, to send a message to all the people who support the Palestinian people.”

Ibrahim said the demonstration was definitely “in the spirit of what’s happening today across the Middle East,” and that he hoped it would get Israelis in the street talking about the “Nakba.”

He said he didn’t have any relatives who left Israel and lived in the refugee camps in Lebanon, rather, that he had “a cousin of my father in Jordan, some relatives in Abu Dhabi, all over really.”

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The bus ride to the border was festive and the mainly 20-something crowd sang songs, cracked jokes on the microphone and clowned around the whole way north.

Even when word got out about the bloodshed in Majdal Shams, the mood didn’t seem to sour. People frantically checked their cellphones and read news reports on the incident, but within minutes were again clapping and singing “Biladi, Biladi,” as the Palestinian national anthem opens.

Nidal Badarna, a 27-year-old actor and filmmaker from Arrabe, near Karmiel, said that the news from Majdal Shams didn’t frighten him one bit, mainly because “we’re still not sure what happened there. Our goal is only to show that all Palestinian people are one people. It’s not a call to destroy Israel, it’s a call to remind the world of the Nakba and the importance of the right of return.”

Badarna’s sentiments on the “right of return” were roundly supported by the other participants, who, while rallying outside Baram Forest chanted, “The people want the refugees back” and, “Here Palestinian was lost, here it will return,” among other sentiments. They called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the Oslo Accords and insist on the “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees.

As the protest continued, a large force of riot police and border policemen arrived, and officers began asking the demonstrators to leave, saying it was an illegal protest and they would be removed by force if they did not leave on their own.

At this time a number of arguments and shoving matches broke out among the protesters, between the older participants who wanted to call it a day and the younger ones who seemed hell-bent on fighting it out with police, or at the least, making some sort of stand in the entryway to the Baram Forest.

Rimah Mufeet, 24, from Kafr Kanna, near Nazareth, said the altercations were caused by “the tension between the young and old. The kids want to stay, they want to wait for the Palestinians who are coming from Lebanon. They feel that they must get there [the border] no matter what.”

Mufeet said the younger protesters didn’t have the same fear of Israeli authorities as their parents or grandparents, who “have this fear [of Israelis] from years before that never went away.”

When asked if they were at all afraid of what happened in Majdal Shams, she said, “They’re of the age where they don’t really know fear. The whole time up here on the bus from Nazareth they were talking about how they aren’t going home, how they want to be shahids [martyrs]. They brought onions, scarves [both to be used against the effects of tear gas], things to prepare for an altercation. They believe that the way their parents struggled wasn’t right. What they’ve learned is that what was taken by force must be returned by force.”

Another younger protester who asked not to be named said he was not at all alarmed by the events in Majdal Shams or the deaths in southern Lebanon. “This is the price people have to pay to get home. They wanted to get home [to Palestine] and they paid the price,” he said.

The crowd continued to ignore police calls to leave, and at one point, a man showed up and forcibly removed his 19-year-old son from the protest.

When the police did move in, it was quick, violent and efficient, and the buses were on their way south within minutes, before the tear gas cleared.

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