With all the Nakba Day fairness and justness, it was intriguing to see the Palestinians protesting today on the Lebanese and Syrian borders with Israel. In commemoration of 15 May 1948, the day the Palestinians were forced to leave their land and became refugees, protests were organised today in Maroun El Ras on Lebanese-Israeli borders in South Lebanon, and in Ain El Tini on the Syrian-Israeli border on the occupied Golan Heights borders (Syrian side).
Israel responded when protestors tried to come closer to the fence (crossing it in Golan), killing ten in the Lebanese gathering, and two in the Syrian one. This is supposed to be under the UN watch; is there any justice for the civilians who were killed? No, this is not common! The good thing about today is that the protests sent a clear message to Israel, that the Palestinian refugees can just ‘walk back home’.
Anyway, I say I was intrigued because these protests, on the Israeli borders, are not very common; not in Syria’s case anyway. Since 2000. the year Israel withdrew from South Lebanon, similar events were organised on Lebanese soil close to Fatima Gate, but were less significant in size. They were more of symbolic gatherings depending on the occasion, visit or guest.
On the Syrian side, I can’t really remember a similar event in my lifetime. I say that and the Golan front has been quiet for 38 years, which meant really quiet; not even a stone throw. Since 1973, all the direct and indirect fighting always happened in Lebanon.
So this leads to the obvious question, why now? Why the Palestinians are protesting on the Syria-Israeli border and in Lebanon in this significant size? Don’t get me wrong, I am not doubting that people shouldn’t be protesting. Actually, they should have been doing it every year, if not more often. The Palestinian cause is a just and human cause, and this will never change irrespective of the current politics or players. The question becomes: were they ‘allowed’ to protest this time?
It’s very well known that the Palestinians are much organised in terms of their membership or affiliation to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) or other parties. They tend to follow their leadership; moreover the Palestinian leaders in Damascus tend to follow the orders of the Syrian leadership, or at least ‘liaise’ with them in crucial matters.
If Palestinian leadership showed some independence, they will be asked to leave, and their political cover/protection will cease to exist in Damascus. The alleged recent move of Hamas away from Damascus was an indication of that. It seemed Hamas were distancing themselves from the regime, with its current risk of falling. If it has not fallen in future, it’s surely weakened. On the other hand, there were endless other examples from the Lebanese Civil War when the current Syrian regime clashed, even ‘bloodily’, with the Palestinians. This was when their actions did not align with the Syrian interests – although ironically they were both fighting for the same cause.
I am just touching on this matter, to say that the above two protests have been given the green light by the President Bashar Al-Assad, which can be a ‘disturbance’ to the existing ‘statu quo’ on the borders.
Personally, I think the Syrian regime is trying to move the focus away from their internal civil unrest, and to cause some disturbance to Israel, probably send them a message and consolidate the Palestinian support behind the President Bashar Al-Assad. Even more, these protests today could be well interpreted along the lines of Rami Makhlouf’s (business tycoon, and president’s cousin and banker) interview to the New York Times this week.
It’s worth noting that people can’t just have a walk to the ‘Golan’, they will have to be let go by the existing military checkpoints on the way.
It seems the regime is playing their last cards in trying to come out from their internal problems: risking a war with Israel, and fighting to the last Palestinian…or even Lebanese. We will have to watch, to see if there are any other ‘regional’ moves planned to face this ‘Arab Spring’.
PS: ‘regional’ refers to Lebanon!