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Border protests: Refugees reclaim their place in the debate

Several Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured as protesters tried to cross the fence into The Golan Heights. The event should remind Israelis of the need to reach a just political solution to the refugee problem, and to establish a mutually agreed and internationally recognized border with Syria


It’s unclear how many protesters were killed yesterday near the Syrian border. Reports range from eight – in the Israeli media – to more than 20, according to Syrian Television. According to Israeli sources, at least some of the protesters were killed from mines near the fence. Millions of landmines are buried in the ground of the Golan Heights.

The Syrian government has a vested interest in diverting attention from the daily killing of dozens of citizens by Assad’s regime to the confrontation near the border. Israel, on the other hand, wants to minimize the reported number of casualties – so the numbers from both sides should be taken a grain of salt.

Many people pointed to the hypocrisy of Damascus in blaming Israel for the killings while engaging in the ongoing murder of its own citizens. Such claims, however justified, do not exempt Israelis from the need examine the events and their moral and political implications. The Israeli leadership makes it sound as though the shooting of protesters couldn’t have been avoided, but there are many other ways to stop unarmed people – and those should have been at least tried. The “danger” of a few people entering Israel (only to be deported immediately) is not as serious as the lost of so many lives.

There are two points to be made here. First, Israel claims that it has the right – just like any other country – to defend its borders. But the fact is that Israel doesn’t have a mutually recognized border with Syria. The international border passes in the Hula Valley; the Golan Heights were occupied when Israel launched an attack on Syria in 1967.

The land conquered in the Six Day War was unilaterally annexed to Israel in 1981. Later, several governments in Jerusalem refused offers by Damascus to return the land in exchange for a peace agreement, asking instead to negotiate a new international border. No country, including the United States, has recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan, which means that technically, as far as international law is concerned, the protesters crossed no border.

That doesn’t mean that Israel needs to allow free movement through the armistice line. But it does mean that as long as we don’t reach a solution that is mutually agreed upon and recognized by the international community – a presently impossible scenario due to events in Syria – Israel is likely to face more challenges to its control over the occupied territory.

Even more important is an effort to solve the refugee problem. For years, Israeli decision makers have simply denied this issue, claiming that the responsibility for the creation of the problem lies with the refugees themselves and the Arab world, due to the rejection of the 1947 partition offer (UN resolution 181) and the departure of Jews from Arab countries (even though it was mostly voluntarily). To use a phrase by Dahlia Shaham, Israeli leaders have once again replaced policy and end goals with justifications. They were aided by the Palestinian Authority’s tendency to focus the attention on the West bank and Gaza, and almost leave the Palestinian diaspora out of the political agenda. Now, for the first time since the Oslo agreement, the Refugees claim their place in the debate.

Israelis and their supporters need to understand that the refugee issue will not disappear. Apart from assuming responsibility for its creation – or at least, for a share in its creation – Israel must strive to reach a political solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees, one that the refugees themselves will take part in.


Yesterday, when the dramatic events near the Syrian border unfolded, I went with a history-obsessed friend to visit the remains of Abu-Shusha, a Palestinian village near Kibbutz Gezer, some 25 minutes from Tel Aviv. We drove back and forth in the dirt road between the Kibbutz’s fields, walked on foot up and down the hill between the newly-planted olive and fig trees, but could hardly spot a trace of the community of more than a thousand Palestinians who once lived there. Later, as we drove back, my friend vowed to return there soon and continue the search. “Things don’t just disappear,” he told me.

Nor do people.


Read more on these issues:

Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba

How Nakba villages sunk into Israeli landscape

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    1. Ben Israel

      Your statements about the frontier on the Golan not being a “recognized border” are, of course, wrong. The border is recognized by Israeli AND Syria AND the UN and everybody else as an official TEMPORARY border pending the negotiation of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Syria agreed to a recognized, monitored cease-fire agreement in 1974 in which UN monitors, called the UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observation Force) were deployed. Both sides promised to honor the agreement and cease-fire. Just as you would be upset if Israelis stormed the border and started attacking Syrian soldiers on their side with rocks and firebombs, so Syrians have no right to attack the Israeli side due to some grievance.
      Israel’s presence on the Golan is LEGAL and internationally recognized by UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 which says Israel’s presence there is legal pending a peace agreement.
      President Ford gave a note to Prime Minister Rabin in 1975 saying something to the effect that the US recognizes the importance of the Golan to Israel.

      Thus, Israeli had EVERY RIGHT to use force to push back the intruders.

      Reply to Comment
    2. @BEN: file under “replacing policy and end goals with justifications”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard Witty

      Israel has the responsibility to defend either its borders or territory that it occupies.

      It is strained civil disobedience to undertake an assault on border (whether consented or contested).

      Syria is the most culpable in promoting and allowing a mass march on a border. Hezbollah and Hamas both prohibited similar demonstrations on their borders.

      Syria demonstrates that it prefers Palestinians as fodder. Hezbollah and Hamas recognize the severity of the action.

      The flotillas are similar. They make great drama, great cause celebre PR, and almost entirely inneffective dissent, except to the already converted.

      The literally only path of improvement for Palestinians at this juncture is the electoral path within Israel, and that requires demonstrated self-discipline on the part of “resistance” movements, that constructs honor and respect for their self-discipline.

      A possible negotiation, rather than an impossible one.

      If there is one theme of the two marches on the borders expressed by Israelis (liberal and conservative ones) is that the marches prove that Palestinians don’t desire peace but removal of Israel.

      Is it true? Or, is the desire for human rights, for self-governance, for community health?

      Reply to Comment
    4. jd

      Funny, I don’t see any news about the 600,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries trying to get back to thier homelands.

      Reply to Comment
    5. max

      “and the departure of Jews from Arab countries (even though it was mostly voluntarily)”
      It seems like the word of a Palestinian refugee is stronger than that of a Jewish refugee – any special reason?

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      “@BEN: file under “replacing policy and end goals with justifications””
      @Noam: file under “replacing reasoning with slogans”

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sylvia

      “the departure of Jews from Arab countries (even though it was mostly voluntarily).”
      Well, live and learn. A leftist site toeing the official line.
      A million people get up and “voluntarily” leave more than two thousand years memories, leaving behind their wealth, their dead, their bank accounts, their synagogues,to their Tora scrolls and their sidurs.
      And he who is outraged that there is still a person or two alive who haven’t heard the word “Nakba” is more than happy peddling the wares of the Memsad’s historiographers of old.

      I’d really really would like to meet your history-obsessed friend. I’ll show him how a million people can disappear, and remains of Jewish sites the sight of which will make his hair stand straight up.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sylvia

      @Richard Witty

      “Syria demonstrates that it prefers Palestinians as fodder.”

      Where is your proof that they are indeed Palestinians?
      They all carry the same fake ID card saying that the place of birth is Jaffa. How is it possible?
      As far as the “body-clount”, it comes from the Syrian regime only – hardly reliable.

      Reply to Comment
    9. max

      Palestinian refugees don’t reclaim place in the debate. They’ve always been there, used by the Arab states and committing their own heinous acts of terrorism. The only difference is that the Arab states’ claim to the land is now history, and having failed to reach their goal with terrorism, they now found a new means.
      What’s more interesting is that “The event should remind Israelis of the need to reach a just political solution to the refugee problem” is exactly what the “right” has always claimed. Are we getting closer to a common understanding of the root cause, which isn’t “territories”?

      Reply to Comment
    10. aristeides

      Ami should be happy. His borders were defended and lots of Palestinians were shot.

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      This whole incident is quite weird. Why shoot first and use gas later? Why risk the death of unarmed protesters? Can the mighty army not handle a few hundred unarmed protesters in a non lethal way?

      Reply to Comment
    12. max

      Directrob, there are, of course, no other countries at war with their neighbors for you to ask yourself how would they react in such circumstances.

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      Max, even if all countries in the world would think it OK to kill a few before chasing them away with tear gas, why on earth does Israel have to stoop so low. These protesters are not committing heinous acts of terrorism, they do not deserve to die as target practice for would be sharp shooters.

      Reply to Comment
    14. max

      Directrob, I have no idea why and when and under what circumstances tear gas was used, resp. sharp shooters. Do you?
      Do you think that the commanders there preferred to shoot first, knowing it’s against Israel’s interest (not to mention human values), and switched to tear gas when the sharp shooters went for lunch?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sylvia

      Directrob – these are serious charges you’re making there. Can you prove “Israel” killed any of the protesters? Can you prove anyone of them died for that matter?

      Once again, Israel is doing time where there was no crime.
      You better prove what you’re advancing here.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Saeed Hotary

      The shooting of civilians at the so called border is a war crime. The zionist entity is illegitimate, so the only border crossed was between Syria and Palestine, which has been hijacked by zionists. The Goldstone reort has already established that illegitimate entities do not have a right to “self defence”

      Reply to Comment
    17. David

      This was in the Guardian about the hooligans the week before :” One demonstrator who was wounded that day told the Guardian the Lebanese militia Hezbollah had given him $50 to turn up at the border and $900 to have his gunshot wounds treated by physicians. He said he had been planning to return to Maroun al-Ras yesterday until the rally was cancelled.”

      Reply to Comment
    18. Brendan

      Abu Shusha: take a GPS and go to longitude 34.9167 and latitude 31.8568. In minutes and seconds: 34-55-00, 31-51-24. You can see the ruins marked with a blue circle on this map:
      http://amudanan.co.il/?lon=34.9167&lat=31.8568 .

      Reply to Comment
    19. abban aziz

      The fact is no individuals can approach the Syrian-Golan-Israel border without explicit approval from the Syrian government.

      It is no coincidence that these “protests” are occurring as Syria is actively killing their own people – 120 civilians killed yesterday if I recall.

      And much like the Palestinian uprisings, where women and children were paid to approach Israeli border police and given more money if they ended up injured or dead – it seems this is also happening here according to recent news.

      Israel’s response seems pretty predictable. The army knew something like this was going to happen and obviously made an effort to minimize casualties.

      the Israelis could kill each and every single “demonstrator” if they wanted to.

      Reply to Comment
    20. max

      So here’s what we have and don’t have:
      – We have no indication that the IDF used much fire power.
      – We have an IDF statement that claims that only few shots were fired, by sharp shooters, in order to stop, not kill
      – We have reports of deaths due to exploding mines
      – We have reports of 14 Palestinian mourners killed by Palestinian bodyguards after a funeral
      – The Palestinians were claiming that their leaders sent them to die in border clashes
      @Directrob, time to retract your claims?
      @Noam: As I wrote above, no new reclaim of place, but rather same old manipulations with new channels

      Reply to Comment
    21. directrob

      See: Lt Col Avital Leibovich at CNN
      From the BBC:
      Israel’s military said its soldiers shouted warnings in Arabic and fired warning shots in the air, before aiming at the legs of those who had reached the fence.
      After live gunfire failed to disperse the crowds, Israeli troops fired volleys of tear gas over the border. Many people fled while others lay on the ground.

      Reply to Comment
    22. abban aziz

      great find directrob.

      it is clear israel’s goal was to prevent a security breach of its sovereignty. Protecting the Israeli villages and cities that are a few clicks from Syria is priority #1.

      israel doesn’t care if thousands of palestinian protest in syria or iran. but you step foot in israel then you must deal with the consequences.

      Reply to Comment
    23. max

      Directrob, I’m not sure what you’re referring to… On slide 6 I read “The protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops as snipers fired rubber bullets and live rounds at some activists” (as I thought and wrote) and on slide 8 I see “A demonstrator falls on the ground as he is hit by Israeli forces’ fire while trying to breach a barbed wire fence”.
      So what’s your point? Where’s the “much firepower”?
      There’s too large of a gap between your claims and your “proofs” to take them as honest, rational observations.
      I’m also puzzled by your refusal to acknowledge the meaning of the events (14 deaths) during the funerals in the al-Yarmuk refugee camp in Syria to this charade.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Sylvia

      The reason I am sure it did not happen is that WHILE the events were taking place, Leftist Israeli media went actually to the site to CHECK that indeed all they had were rubber bullets and not live ammunition! They had no choice but report the truth (on reshet bet) but still…
      Another point is that I don’t see how how 23 could have actually died (remember they were on the Syrian side of the border) when all in all there were no more than 50 people total.
      And now the question that has really really been bugging me: how do you know they were Palestinian refugees? What evidence do you have on that? As I already indicated, the 15 May crowd had all the same fake ID cards saying they were born in Jaffa including the Syrian who made it through to Jaffa.

      Reply to Comment
    25. directrob

      Yes I made a mistake, please go to photo 9. You see there a man lying on the ground with his shirt soaked with blood. The stretcher is also stained with blood. Shooting at feet, legs lower part of the body is quite dangerous even when the target does not move.
      By the claim, what did I claim in this discussion that is unproven? My point is that it is strange that potentially lethal violence was used first and non/less lethal violence was used later.

      Reply to Comment
    26. @Max,

      personal insults will get you banned from this blog. first and final warning.

      Reply to Comment
    27. max

      Directrob, now that we agree that there was no much firepower but rather a few shots targeting legs and that the deaths (we don’t know how many) probably occurred due to the exploding mines; that the people were sent there by their leaders without telling them the obvious consequences, and once they understood it were shot at by their own people, resulting in 14 deaths –
      now I can refer you back to my original answer: like you, I don’t know why the IDF shot first and then used tear gas. But rather than assuming a counter productive and criminal act, I’d consider wind, distance and such practical factors.

      Reply to Comment
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