The army used tear gas and plastic-coated steel bullets against stone-throwing demonstrators, at least 200 required medical treatment. [UPDATE: Photo gallery from the Nakba Day demonstrations has been added at the bottom of this piece.]
By Max Schindler
RAMALLAH – Tuesday’s annual Nakba Day commemorations, marking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, focused largely on support for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Until an agreement reached on Monday night, more than 1,500 prisoners had fasted for weeks, demanding an end to administrative detention and for improving their prison conditions.
Yesterday, Israel announced that it would meet a few of the prisoners’ demands in exchange for an end to the hunger strike.
Nearly 1,000 Palestinians and international supporters demonstrated outside the Ofer Military Prison near Ramallah, in the largest West Bank protest today.
Protesters brandished posters and t-shirts imprinted with the faces of two hunger strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, whose fasts lasted for 77 days before they indicated their hunger strike would end today, in accord with the recent agreement.
The two prisoners – alleged by Israel to be fundraisers for Hamas and Islamic Jihad – are held in administrative detention without trial or charge.
The crowd at Ofer – consisting largely of young people – pelted Israeli soldiers with stones from home-made slingshots, threw Molotov cocktails and burned car tires in an attempt to approach the prison, 300 meters away. Israeli soldiers shot plastic-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters while spraying “skunk” liquid at the demonstrators.
According to Diaa Meysef, an EMT volunteer for the Palestine Red Crescent, as of 5 p.m., more than 200 demonstrators received medical treatment for injuries, 130 from tear gas and some 70 from plastic-coated steel bullets.
As ambulances careened, wafts of tear gas and smoke from burning rubber tires billowed in the air. Most protestors breathed through keffiyehs draped around their necks.
Dr. Sami Nahlka, a Civil Defense volunteer, said there were no central organizers for today’s protest at Ofer prison. Hamas and Fatah did not participate formally, although many activists affiliated with Fatah were in attendance. Rather, Palestinians gathered in a spontaneous demonstration.
One Palestinian-American born in Brooklyn, Ehad Khile, 18, said he and his university friends protested out of collective obligation. Calling himself “non-political,” Khile said, “I need to support what my people do today.”
Dahlia Hamayel, a high school student at the protest, said she was here “because we want to establish that despite many years passing, we are fed up.”
“We are here just to threaten the soldiers that you, you will not have a good life, as long as you occupy us,” she said.
In recent days, Israeli officials expressed fear that if a hunger striker were to die in Israeli custody, the occupied territories would erupt in spiraling unrest and mass outrage.
Last night, the Israeli authorities negotiated an accord with their Palestinian counterparts, promising to end solitary confinement and improve prison amenities. Yet the main issue that sparked the latest round of hunger strikes – the widespread practice of administrative detention by Israeli authorities – remains unresolved.
Several commemoration protests were held at other locations in the occupied West Bank, among them the Al-Manara Square in Ramallah, where thousands of Palestinians crowded into the square to listen to establishment figures and politicians give speeches; at Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem; Issawiya neighborhood in East Jerusalem; and Gaza City.
In Israel proper, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee of Israel announced a general strike in the Arab sector today, culminating in a rally in the Aljun area near Umm al-Fahm – the largest Arab city in the country.
During and after the war of 1948, some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were evicted, and 400 villages were destroyed. The Israeli government did not allow the Palestinians to return home and later confiscated their assets.
Palestinians annually mark Nakba Day on May 15, the day after Israel’s declaration of independence. Israelis rely on the Hebrew calendar, celebrating Independence Day on the 5th of Iyar, which was on April 26 this year.
UPDATE: Images from Nakbe day protests near Ramallah (all photos by Activestills.org)
Max Schindler is a student at Cornell University who is spending the year volunteering on a kibbutz and writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This Nakba Day, peace is more urgent then ever
IMAGES: Protesters, IDF clash on Nakba Day at Ofer prison
Rightists disrupt Nakba ceremony at Tel Aviv University
Why the inconvenient truths of the Nakba must be recognized