Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yom ha-Naksa

What did happen on Sunday on the Israel/Syria border at Magdal Shams and at Quneitra? According to the Syrians, more than 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. According to the Israeli army, Israeli snipers did not fire many shots, and they aimed at people's legs. Also according to Israel, those at Quneitra were killed not by Israeli fire, but by land mines that were accidentally blown up by the Syrian/Palestinian protestors who threw firebombs that set off the mines. In an article in today's New York Times, Isabel Kershner reports that the Israeli army says about 10 protestors died in the land mine explosions at Quneitra. So did the IDF kill any of the protestors at Magdal Shams?

And what should Israel do when (largely non-violent) protestors try to cross the border? Apparently, at Quneitra, the IDF used largely non-lethal crowd-dispersing techniques, while at Magdal Shams, they used live fire.

When the protesters neared the border at Majdal Shams, IDF officers told them in Arabic to stop, as continuing could endanger their lives. When dozens nevertheless kept going, soldiers started firing into the air. When the marchers reached the first fence, snipers were ordered to fire at their legs from about 200 meters away.

At Quneitra, in contrast, soldiers mainly used nonlethal weaponry like tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets, with which all troops along the border had been equipped following the Nakba Day incidents. The use of nonlethal means was possible because the confrontations took place at much closer range.

The IDF acknowledged that "dozens" of marchers were hurt, but said the Syrian figure of 23 dead sounded highly unlikely.

I'm currently in Israel, visiting until mid-July for my annual summer visit, and what's going on at the border with Syria, and inside Syria itself, feels much closer than it did from the safe distance of Ithaca. On the one hand, it feels much more like a threat that people are crossing the Syrian border (and on Nakba Day, the Lebanese border) - and if it's a real threat, isn't Israel justified in taking even lethal measures to deal with the threat? On the other hand, if the protestors are not armed, is it justified to shoot them, even without the intention of killing them? Were there less lethal methods that the IDF could have used in Magdal Shams to keep the protestors from crossing the border?

I'm no fan of the current Israeli government, but it seems to me that it's caught here between a rock and a hard place, without really good choices.

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