Palestinians, Israeli troops clash on Nakba Day Palestinians attend a rally marking al-Nakba Day in the West Bank city of Nablus, on May 1...
Palestinians attend a rally marking al-Nakba Day in the West Bank city of Nablus, on May 15, 2012. Palestinians took to streets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to mark al- Nakba Day when thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. (Xinhua/Ayman Nobani)
by Gur Salomon, Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Violent altercations broke out Tuesday throughout the West Bank and in east Jerusalem as thousands of Palestinians set out to mark "Nakba Day" (the "Day of Catastrophe" mourning Israel's creation and Palestinian displacement) with rallies and demonstrations.
Earlier in the day, Border Police were called to disperse several dozen Palestinians in Bethlehem who hurled stones at Jewish worshippers who gathered for morning prayers at Rachel's Tomb, a heavily-guarded shrine sacred to both Jews and Muslims.
Palestinian police intervened in the melee, although some 200 Palestinians were allowed to hold a demonstration at the site, Army Radio reported.
There were no reports of injuries to either side in the clash, which follows a similar event on Monday, in which security personnel stationed at the site hurried worshippers to safety.
Clashes were abundant at other major Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Tul Karem, Kalkilya and Halhul, where mass marches were organized in squares and mosques.
At noon, Palestinians sounded a siren for 64-seconds to mark the years since Israel's establishment in the 1948 war.
In clashes that took place at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, groups of masked Palestinian youths burned tires and hurled stones at troops, who responded with tear gas and other crowd-control measures in an attempt to disperse the protestors.
Earlier in Ramallah, the Palestinian National Authority called on residents to assemble at Yasser Arafat Square for a major rally, and announced that it was canceling work and studies to allow as many people as possible to attend.
Confrontations had also erupted in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, where troops deployed at the Jewish community of Carmei Tzur came under heavy barrages of stones thrown by protestors from the village of Beit Omar, which borders the community, Israel's Channel 10 TV reported.
Similar stone throwing incidents were also reported elsewhere in the vicinity, including at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, but there were no reports of injuries to either side.
In east Jerusalem, where security forces are regularly deployed in large numbers to head off confrontations between Arabs and Jews, police were called to disperse Palestinian protestors in the village of Issawiyeh, located several hundred meters from the Temple Mount and other sensitive religious sites in the Old City.
Despite calls to join the events in the Palestinian territories, Arab communities in Israel chose to mark Nakba Day with symbolic, non-violent events.
In March, the Israeli parliament approved the "Nakba Law," which enables the government to deny funding to organizations and local councils that actively protest the state's core values as Jewish and democratic.
Concerned over events spilling out of control, the Israeli army and police have already beefed up forces and riot gear on Monday in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last year's Nakba Day events, in which some 15 presumed Palestinian refugees were killed while attempting to cross the mined no-man's land between Syria and Israel, as well as trying to rush the fenced border with Lebanon.
All three countries dispute the numbers killed and wounded, and whether they died as a result of Israeli or Lebanese gunfire, or from Syrian mines which detonated as protestors traversed territory to reach the border fence.
While additional forces had been deployed along the Syria- Lebanon borders this time around, officials did not expect events similar to those that unfolded in the area last year.
Concerned over events spilling out of control, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz reportedly told GOC Central Command Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon: "We are hoping for the better and getting ready for the worst."
Gantz's remarks were made prior to Monday night's Egyptian- brokered deal between Israel and some 1,600 Palestinians security prisoners to end a month-long hunger strike over conditions and a demand to end administrative detentions.
Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated the strikers, calling the move the first step towards ensuring their eventual release, and military sources told Army radio that the agreement helped quell the scale of the rioting.
Palestinian violence against Israeli troops and civilians on Nakba Day, as well as on other dates commemorating the struggle against the Jewish state, has become more common in recent years, forcing Israel to devise and deploy an assortment of non-lethal riot control gear.
The army said Monday it was readying the use of a sonic projector nicknamed "The Screamer," which emits a fast-pulsed tone which causes nausea and disorientation, as well as skunk spray, to disperse demonstrators. The army has also distributed retrofit parts for M-16 and sniper rifles that enable the use of smaller, softer rounds, meant to injure and not kill.