When clashes erupted yesterday between Israeli forces and the unarmed Palestinian marchers, leaving more than a dozen dead and scores injured, some West Bank towns saw intense protests met with teargas and violence. But the fighting that nabbed the most headlines was with those residing outside of the Occupied Territories: Palestinians from Lebanon and particularly Syria (in focus because of its ongoing domestic unrest).
If you read most mainstream coverage of the protests, you could be forgiven for thinking that Iran and Syria hatched a master-plan to get Palestinians to stage coordinated marches to drive the Jews of Israel into the sea. But as is often the case in the Middle East, the narrative of mainstream outlets and official sources left something to be desired, propagating myths about the weekend’s demonstrations.
Here’s four things you might be surprised to learn about yesterday’s protests:
- The Palestinians were not out in force to “mourn Israel’s creation,” though the phrase appeared in the teaser on the front page of the New York Times’ website. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was of course more blunt, but here’s some clever innuendo: “It is important to point out that these events are taking place on a day which marks the establishment of the State of Israel.” Yes, it does, but…
- Palestinians march to commemorate events concurrent with Israel’s creation in 1948. Known collectively to Palestinians as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were expelled from their homes before, during and after the creation of Israel, mostly during the resulting Arab-Israeli war. Those Palestinians have never been allowed to return home, and are either inside the Occupied Territories or in the Palestinian diaspora, many of the latter in refugee camps in neighboring countries.
- Palestinians in Syria organized on social media to march toward Israel, but they never crossed into internationally recognized Israeli territory. What then is the footage of them approaching and crossing that fence, you ask? The divider is a line of disengagement, not “Israel’s border with Syria.” According to international law, both sides of the fence belong to Syria, making the only distinction that one is occupied and the other unoccupied . The Palestinians were indeed making a run on Israeli-controlled territory, but not Israeli territory (according to anyone other than Israel, that is).
- The U.S. and Israel have both condemned Syria for its role in the protests, with Israel naturally adding Iran, but neither providing much of anything in the way of proof. The New York Times reported that an IDF general “said on Israel Radio that he saw Iran’s fingerprints in the coordinated confrontations, although he offered no evidence.” The Times also noted “signs of grass-roots support for the protests,” including online organizing. The Obama administration, for its part, also condemned Syria’s “involvement in inciting yesterday’s protests,” but also offered up no evidence. White House Spokesperson Jay Carney did add: “It seems apparent to us that is an effort to distract attention from the legitimate expression of protest by the Syrian people.” Again, that might be true, but no proof is offered of anything other than Syrian passivity in allowing “the legitimate expression of protest” by Palestinians.
Despite proclamations from Israel that this protest movement was something insidious and frightening, it seems most analysts have gotten the clue and the Arab Spring has come to Israel. Even Israel’s reaction has a familiar ring to it. “This is the typical tactic of the whole Arab Spring. This is what every government has done,” Oklahoma University professor and Syria expert Joshua Landis told ThinkProgress. “They’ve all had the same response to people who have protested to demand justice and human dignity: They’re blaming it on foreign governments and infiltrators.” What’s next? Al Qaeda slipping LSD into Palestinians’ coffee?