Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
IDF vehicle protecting the border with Gaza.

By Yona Schnitzer

Israeli communities adjacent to the Israel-Gaza border said they would restrict farming activities in fields adjacent to the border fence and instructed residents to prepare for large-scale disturbances on the Gaza side of the frontier beginning Friday as Arabs begin a series of protests to mark Land Day, a 1976 protest against land confiscations in which six Israeli Arabs were killed.

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At Kibbutz Nahal Oz, security officials reassured residents that the army had “learned lessons” from the Gazans’ repeated infiltrations across the border fence this week but added that the IDF had significantly ramped up border security ahead of the march. “Beginning this Friday (the eve of Passover), there will be a phenomenon of Gazans marching on the border fence and trying to cross it… It is not clear what the makeup of the crowd will be (women, children),” officials wrote in a letter to residents obtained by Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

The letter stressed that the army has said there would be “no option for protesters to enter Israel” and that the military had erected several types of barriers to block marchers before they reached the border. It also cautioned residents to stay indoors and to keep their windows closed because of the likelihood that the army would disperse the marchers with “generous amounts” of tear gas that could affect the kibbutz, depending on the direction of the wind.

Arab sources in Gaza and Judea and Samaria say the six-week campaign will culminate on Nakba Day, the Arab term for their failure to destroy the nascent state of Israel on May 15, 1948, and that this weekend’s protests will be serve as a “dress rehearsal” for a “Great March of Return,” to be held on May 15th and which could include masses marching on the fence and possibly crossing over into Israel.

It wouldn’t be the first time: In October, 2015, hundreds of Gazans marched en masse toward the fence and broke through the 50 meter “security zone” that the IDF maintains near the border. Six Arab protesters were killed and over 100 wounded.

Four years earlier, in May, 2011, about 200 Syrians crossed the border into Israel on Nakba Day and rioted in the border town of Majdal Shams, on Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights. That incident caught the IDF off guard and emergency response teams flowed into the town to take control of the situation, resulting in the deaths of four Syrians, while several IDF soldiers were wounded.

Less than a month later, on June 5th, a more organized demonstration was staged to mark the anniversary of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War and the conquest of the Golan Heights. This time, the IDF was prepared for the protests, expecting similar attempts to breach the border. Hundreds of Syrians marched on the border and thirteen were killed by IDF snipers as they tried to cross over into Israel.

To deal with the upcoming protests, Israeli security forces have prepared for a variety of possible scenarios, According to media reports, preparations have included employing UAVs to spray tear gas on the protesters, while several “creative” solutions have been suggested including an airdrop of food and medicine into the center of Gaza, in hopes that it would distract and dissuade civilians from taking part in the protests.

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