Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces at points throughout the West Bank Tuesday, though much of the area remained relatively calm as Palestinians marked the anniversary of Israel’s founding, which they term the Nakba, or catastrophe.
By late afternoon, 50 Palestinians were reported to have been lightly injured in clashes with Israeli troops — mainly at a checkpoint near Hebron and a prison outside Ramallah. An Israeli soldier and three Border Police personnel were also reported lightly hurt.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking in Ramallah, marked the day by declaring, “We will remain in this land. We will remain like oak trees. We will remain like our olive trees.” He applauded Palestinian leaders “who led us from Nakba to revolution to statehood,” the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
Abbas added that “Jerusalem is the key in the gate to peace. Any attempt by the occupation to mess with the Holy City means igniting tension and wars in the region and the world… We insist on each particle and each stone in Jerusalem.”
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently exchanged emails about conditions for a resumption of peace talks. Both sides claim to want negotiations to resume; each blames the other for the ongoing deadlock.
About 20 worshipers visiting Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem were briefly trapped inside the complex under a hail of stones from dozens of Palestinian protesters in the morning. Border Police from Jerusalem arrived to protect the site and Palestinian police dispersed protesters on the Palestinian side of the area.
North of Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinian youths threw stones at IDF soldiers manning the Qalandiya checkpoint throughout the day. Soldiers responded with tear gas to disperse the youths, some of whom were masked. Two Border Police officers were lightly injured, Israel Radio reported.
Clashes were also reported at an army checkpoint near Hebron. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 30 people were hurt by rubber bullets and dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation.
Palestinian sources told Army Radio that 20 protesters were lightly injured by rubber bullets outside the Ofer Prison near Ramallah.
In Hamas-run Gaza, some 3,000 Palestinians marched to the local UN office. They carried banners reading “We shall return” and listing the names of their original villages. Ismael Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and several other Hamas security officials, ran a two-kilometer (1.5 mile) race that ended at the Palestinian parliament.
In Ramallah, where the main protest was planned, thousands of Palestinians marched from Yasser Arafat’s tomb to the Palestinian Authority government center in the city, carrying Palestinian flags and posters. Some read: “Return is our right and our destiny.”
An NGO representing Palestinian communities in Israel called on Palestinians to skip work and visit the sites of former villages.
In Tel Aviv, Arab MK Hanin Zoabi was scheduled to visit the offices of the Israeli-Palestinian NGO Zochrot Tuesday evening for a Nakba Day event.
Zoabi, whose controversial record includes remarks perceived as anti-Israel and an arrest for traveling on the Gaza aid flotilla ship Mavi Marmara in 2010, is often met at events by right-wing protesters.
Earlier in the day a rocket was fired from Gaza into an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. No injuries or damage were reported. Overnight, Palestinians hurled Molotov cocktails at troops in Hebron.
Israel had ordered security forces and police to beef up their presence ahead of Nakba Day, after last year saw thousands of Palestinians try to storm Israel’s northern border from Syria and Lebanon.
The army had anticipated protests would be limited to Palestinian cities and generally contained by Palestinian security forces. An official said that military intelligence would be monitoring prayer services at mosques and public broadcasts to detect incitement and calls for violence.
“We anticipate demonstrations, but not at levels we are unaccustomed to,” said the officer.
The IDF increased its presence along the Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Gazan and West Bank borders for fear of attempted terror attacks, as well as to respond to any unexpected developments resulting from clashes between protesters and soldiers.The source said the army would not let the borders be breached and would “respond appropriately to any attempts” to breach them.
“We can’t ignore the recent high tensions, and therefore will place commanders at friction points and show as much restraint as possible,” said a senior officer of the Central Command.
During a visit to units in the field, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said, “We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
The police were also on high alert and preparing to be on hand for any violent flare-ups across the country, especially in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Arab villages in the north.
Emergency rescue services beefed up manpower.
Despite the signing of a deal with Palestinian prisoners to bring to an end a massive hunger strike on Monday, prison services were on alert for riots.
In recent years, Nakba Day has been turned into a political display in support of the Palestinian cause around the world, and has seen some violent eruptions following demonstrations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.