Many questions have been raised following the May 15 “Nakba” border incidents in southern Lebanon which left six demonstrators confirmed dead. But so far they haven’t been the right ones.
International coverage of the day was a predictable whitewash. The security of Israel’s borders was debated — with the United Kingdom’s the Independent claiming Israel was “reeling” after the border breach at the Golan Heights — followed by news that Israel would be filing a complaint against Lebanon and Syria to the UN Security Council. Speculation abounded about the launch of a third intifada, complete with bogeyman reminders of mass mobilization and suicide bombers. The simultaneous killing by Syrian snipers of a woman attempting to flee the country into the northern Lebanon village of Wadi Khaled prompted a spate of finger-pointing that Syria and Hezbollah had choreographed the Nakba event to divert attention from unrest at home, somehow hijacking the Palestinian cause for their own advantage.
Syria and Hezbollah did indeed supply buses that drove tens of thousands of people to the border. Yellow-capped Hezbollah medics and security personnel were on hand at the Maroun Al Ras park and later Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah praised protesters for their honor. But every person protesting on the day was there of their own volition.
Domestically, the focus was on the security arrangements on the day. Questions have emerged about why the Lebanese Army, working with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), were deployed north of Maroun Al Ras, at Fatima Gate. UNIFIL, which defines its mandate as monitoring the cessation of hostilities in southern Lebanon in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces and ensuring humanitarian access to civilian populations, were nowhere to be seen, though UNIFIL deputy spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told Executive that they had provided aerial observation upon request and had helped to coordinate blockades at the base of the hill, according to their mandate. These are important concerns but they should not overshadow the principal issue — Israeli soldiers shot and killed at least a half dozen demonstrators, and yet it seems everyone is to blame for this loss of life except Israel.
Late last month Mounib Masri, a 23-year-old American University of Beirut student was in intensive care at the American University Hospital in Hamra, recovering from a gun-shot wound to his lower back. One of more than 100 wounded, he had surgery to remove his spleen, one kidney and fragments of bullet around his spinal cord. Like most of the 40,000-odd men and women that day, which included young and old, secular and religious, Lebanese and Palestinian, Masri took the winding bus route to the border hills to show his support for the right of Palestinians to return home after 63 years in exile. Like most of those stationed on what became the macabre viewing platform overlooking the valley, alongside ice-cream vans and plastic chairs set out for prayers and speeches, the ringing out of machine-gun fire and the five-hour pattern of bloodied bodies arriving up the hill on stretchers was shockingly at odds with his expectations for the day.
Masri, in deciding to head down the valley to the technical border fence, certainly didn’t expect to end up with a bullet in his spine. There was never any chance of Masri, or any of the protesters, getting over two sets of electrified barbed wire fences, and the rocks thrown from the Lebanese side of the border were no match for the returning bullets, shot at close enough range that the Israeli soldiers, protected in their full military garb and helmets, could look most of their victims in the eye before pulling the trigger — those that were facing them, that is.
The most important issue — lost in discussion about security arrangements, border security and the character of the Arab Spring — is that of the unnecessary force and criminal disregard for human life that has become so characteristic of the Israeli Army that we take it for granted. Protests are scheduled to take place again at Maroun Al Ras on June 5, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War. Organizers say events will not become violent; let us hope they are right, although that is easier to say than ensure given that it is the Israelis who decide whether or not to pull the trigger.
Lauren Williams is a freelance correspondent for The Guardian