Tear gas, rocks, and stun grenades filled the air as Palestinian rioters and Israeli security personnel skirmished today — the Land Day protests unraveled into predictable anarchy and violence.
In Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, hundreds of Palestinian protested, and later rioted, as they marched on Israeli border positions. In an abrupt contrast to the relative silence at the Qalandiya crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem this morning, the attempt to “liberate” Jerusalem descended into chaos at the conclusion of Friday morning prayers.
Organizers of the Global March on Jerusalem boasted of a complex and thoroughly planned effort to flush Israel’s borders with two million activists, refugees, and militants from across the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan for Land Day. (March 30 is when Palestinian and Israeli Arabs commemorate deadly protests that took place in Israel over land rights in 1976.) The organizers included Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and leftist and extremist groups, and were backed by Iran and other Arab governments.
Protestors burned tires and threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, who were deployed to prevent large-scale violence and the possible infiltration of Israeli territory. In the West Bank and Gaza, Israelis responded with non-lethal countermeasures, such as tear gas, the Scream device (used to disperse crowds with projected audible dissonance), and the Skunk (a modified carrier that sprays a non-toxic foul-smelling substance at large crowds). At the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza, 14 injuries and one death were reported after Gaza protesters crossed into the no-man’s land close to the Israeli border. The rioters were fired upon after failing to heed warning shots by IDF personnel. Large groups of Palestinians gathered at landmarks in Lebanon and Jordan, but did not attempt to breach the border.
The protests were marred by conflicts amongst the various factions claiming leadership over the masses, which resulted in infighting. Hamas, Palestinian Authority, and Lebanese security forces also beat back attempts to approach Israeli border crossings with clubs and truncheons. In Bethlehem, Palestinian police formed a human chain to keep protesters from reaching the checkpoint. A protester threw a Molotov cocktail that lit a fire on an Israeli watchtower after Palestinian police withdrew.
The day’s planning was beset by division within the organizers’ ranks months before the protests were to begin. From the onset, Iranians and other proxy groups sought to interfere. The few calls for nonviolent resistance and discourse during the day’s events were drowned out by the more radical elements.