Palestinians clash with IDF troops during Nakba protests

Marking the 60th anniversary of what Israelis call independence but Palestinians call the “Nakba” (or the “Catastrophe”), hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israel Defense Forces soldiers on Wednesday at military checkpoints in the West Bank.

Some six people were reported injured at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, as the protesters threw stones at IDF troops, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, soldiers used tear gas to disperse a small crowd of protesters approaching an IDF checkpoint on the town’s edge.

Clashes also erupted at a number of other checkpoints, including Abu Dis and Shuafat, to the east and north-east of Jerusalem, and Hawara, near Nablus.

Local leaders called on Palestinian refugees to stage a symbolic march to the homes they, their parents, or grandparents lost 60 years ago in what is now Israel.

Hundreds of residents of camps in Lebanon were also seen protesting near Israel’s northern border, waving Palestinian and United Nations flags.

Israel celebrated the 60th anniversary of its May 14, 1948 independence declaration last week, in accordance with the Hebrew calendar date. Israel is hosting another round of festivities at the Presidential Conference this week, and has been joined by dozens of foreign leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush.

Palestinians will hold more events marking the Nakba on Thursday.

Meanwhile, parents of Arab children at a joint Arab-Jewish elementary school in Jerusalem on Wednesday protested the removal of Palestinian flags at the school, which had been hung up to mark the Nakba. The flags were taken down ahead of a visit by U.S. First Lady Laura Bush.

“This school teaches our children about mutual respect and cooperation. Over the course of two weeks, Israeli flags were hung proudly. It hurts me that my daughter was forced to witness her flag being hidden,” said one mother.

Last week, Israeli flags were hung throughout the school in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

According to parents, the flags and symbols were placed in storage and they were told that only colorful drawings would be hung on the bulletin boards.

In Gaza, the ruling Islamic militant Hamas wants supporters to march toward a main passenger crossing with Israel. Gaza has been virtually sealed since the violent Hamas takeover a year ago.

Arab students at Israeli universities in Haifa and Jerusalem were planning Nakba marches. In Jerusalem, artists were planning to exhibit 3,000 figurines, meant to represent Palestinian refugees.

During the 1948 War of Independence, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted and scattered across the region. Along with their descendants, they now make up about 4.5 million, according to United Nations figures.

Commemorations are meant to direct attention to the unresolved plight of Palestinian refugees, and to encourage young Palestinians to learn their history, activists said. The fate of refugees is a key issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which resumed earlier this year, but have yielded little progress.

Plans include flying thousands of black balloons in a show of mourning, rallies in the West Bank and Gaza and the screening of films about Palestinian history.

In Gaza, meanwhile, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar told a conference commemorating the Nakba that his radical Islamic movement would “never” recognize Israel, which he said will one day “disappear.”

“On this occasion, the occasion of the Nakba, we reiterate that we will never recognize the raping enemy. We will never recognize Israel. We will never recognize Israel,” al-Zahar told a cheering audience.

“Our lands are not for sale or for trade, and the right of resistance is holy,” he said.

“Israel is going to disappear one day and the Palestinian people will remain to fully liberate all their occupied lands,” he told the conference, entitled “Sixty years since the Nakba – the return is imminent.”

“The day of liberation and return is coming very soon,” al-Zahar said. “We are good readers of reality and the powers of war and destruction are not terrifying us.”

Bush arrived in Israel to much fanfare on Wednesday for a 48-hour visit in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The visit is his second in four months.

Regarding Bush’s visit, Zahar said, “There is no welcome for Bush in the Holy Land. There is no welcome for hypocrite presidents who are defiling our land.”

Ref: Haaretz

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