Israel,  Syria

Nakba Day on the Golan

It’s unclear yet how many people were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire on some of the hundreds of Palestinian refugees– some of them throwing stones– who marked Nakba Day by crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria.

Others were killed on the Lebanese border. According to Israel, Lebanon’s army was responsible for those deaths.

It appears that the motives of those who crossed were more mixed than you might expect.

“I’m tired of living in Syria, we’d rather die than see more bloodshed,” one of the Syrian infiltrators into Majdal Shams told Ynet earlier. He called on Israel to grant him asylum, adding: “We’ve crossed the border in order to stay with our families, away from all the killing in Syria. We ask the powers at be in Israel to help us stay and not send us back.”

Other infiltrators told Ynet that “we come in peace,” adding that they had decided to cross the border in the aims of living in the Golan Heights – “even if it means risking our lives.” Still, others declared “we are here to liberate the Syrian Palestinian land. These people are Palestinian freeman, Allah willing, the Palestinian groups will not give up.”

Some of those expressing a wish to remain on the Israeli side of the border, said the uprising against Syrian President Assad is proving more and more dangerous and that many Palestinians now fear for their lives.

Eventually all those who crossed into the Golan returned to Syria.

Obviously the IDF was unprepared for such a mass action; after all the Syrian regime has kept the border between the two countries quiet since the end of the 1973 war. Clearly Israel, like any other country, has a right to regulate its borders. Could the Israelis have dealt with this less violently? Perhaps, and some questions need to be asked and answered about how this was handled. But given the current uprising in Syria, the Assad regime’s willingness to allow (encourage?) this crossing has all the markings of a cynical ploy.

As Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

[N]ow there is widespread revolt in Syria, which threatens not only the Syrian regime, but its ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. So far, Bashar’s security forces have slaughtered almost a thousand Syrian citizens. So what would you do if you were a cynical Syrian dictator, or a cynical ally of the cynical Syrian dictator? Change the subject. To what, you might ask? Well, Israel, of course. Here is Andrew Exum, who has a much better understanding of the situation:

This will shock all some none of you, but Arab regimes have often cynically used the Palestinian cause to shift the focus away from their own failures and abuses. The clashes today are the best of news for Bashar al-Asad, and only the Lord knows how many brave Syrians will now be gunned down or thrown into prison in Homs, Douma, Hama, Baniyas, etc. while everyone’s eyes are on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gazan borders with Israel. Just yesterday, we were all talking about terrified Syrians fleeing into northern Lebanon. Now Syria and its allies have either engineered or have been presented with the mother of all distractions from their own wretched and criminal behavior.

I think we can safely predict which websites, blogs and persons will pay far more attention to this than they have to the vastly bloodier repression of the more significant uprising in Syria.

Update: This video is reported to be from Sunday night in Homs, where the Syrian regime’s crackdown on protests has been especially brutal. It appears some Syrians remain undistracted.

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