Israelis security services were on high alert on Monday as Palestinians are expected to launch protests against the “catastrophe” that was the creation of the State of Israel, officials said, amid already high tensions in the West Bank over an ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners.
Palestinians and some Arab Israelis mark the Nakba, or “catastrophe” — namely the dispossession that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel — every year on May 15.
The day is marked with a siren that blares for one second for every year since 1948 — 69 seconds this year — and with marches across the West Bank, Gaza, inside Israel and occasionally abroad as well.
These protests occasionally turn violent, resulting in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. In 2014, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by a Border Police officer who replaced his less-lethal rounds, used to disperse riots, with full live-fire bullets.
In a statement, the army said that as a preventive measure it would be sending additional troops to areas where protests have taken place before.
“In last two years, the region has been relatively quiet. The IDF is taking extra security precautions, particularly in areas that are prone to riots,” the statement read.
Last year, the “Nakba Day” protests passed without any significant incidents. However, this year, the situation in the West Bank is more uneasy, as Palestinians have rallied behind a hunger strike being led by Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who is currently serving five life sentences for orchestrating terror attacks against Israelis.
“The police are prepared and ready for any eventuality,” a spokesperson said.
Some rallies in support of the hunger strike have turned violent, and organizers have called for backers to protest on Nakba Day in support of the hunger strikers.
Hunger strike leader Barghouti issued a letter Sunday urging Palestinians to carry out acts of “civil disobedience” to commemorate the day.
The Hamas terrorist group, which organized a Nakba Day march in Gaza, said their protest will “say that the land is ours, Jerusalem is ours and Palestine is ours,” according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
“If some people have forgotten our cause, we say that we haven’t forgotten and the occupation will be forced out of our land soon, God willing, and Palestine will stay Islamic and Arab,” Hamas official Hani Islayim said.
On Sunday, top Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel must recognize that its founding in 1948 was a “catastrophe” for the Palestinians and apologize for it “in order to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”
Erekat said that the day “means an ongoing journey of pain, loss, and injustice.”
Erekat called on the Israeli government to “open all its 1948 archives and show their own nation the truth of what was done to our people, including its ethnic cleansing policies and the policy of shooting to kill Palestinians who attempted to return home.”
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven out in the war over Israel’s 1948 creation. The refugees, estimated today to number about 5.5 million with their descendants, mostly still live in the region. Tens of thousands more were displaced in the 1967 war in which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians seek for a future state.
For the Palestinians, the right to return to homes they fled or were forced out of is a prerequisite for any peace agreement with Israel, but it is a demand the Jewish state has rejected.