Hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian refugees marched on June 5 from Syrian-controlled territory to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Refugees in Palestine and elsewhere marked the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan Heights.
On the frontier with the occupied Golan Heights, hundreds were injured and more than 20 killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire with live ammunition on unarmed demonstrators.
The march was the second in less than a month. Hundreds demonstrated on the frontier with the Golan Heights to mark Nakba (“Catastrophe”) Day on May 15.
That time, many Palestinian refugees succeeded in crossing the fence into the Golan Heights. One refugee reached as far as Jaffa in Israel in search of his family’s former home.
Salman Fakhreddin is a political activist and the public relations officer of Al-Marsad, the Arab Center for Human Rights in the Golan (golan-marsad.org).
From the occupied Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams, where he still lives, Fakhreddin told ElectronicIntifada.net what he saw on June 5 and what the real threat to Israel is regarding popular demonstrations.
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What happened on June 5 near Majdal Shams?
On June 5, hundreds of refugees from Syria — Palestinians and Syrians — marched to the ceasefire line near Majdal Shams in a place called the Valley of Tears. It was a demonstration in memory of the war of ’67 and the occupation by Israel of the Golan, West Bank and Gaza and Sinai.
When people reached the ceasefire line, Israeli forces were waiting with snipers. They began firing live bullets and they killed and injured hundreds of people. Twenty-three people were killed.
It is a blood harvest of the Israeli army. I think first they began shooting to kill and during the afternoon and at beginning of the night, they began firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
It means that the Israeli army was standing on its head and thinking with its feet. They dealt with the issue in the opposite of a humanitarian way.
They decided to kill people to frighten them into not continuing with the demonstration because they are afraid of the delegitimisation of the state of Israel and Israeli policy in the international community.
On the other hand, the demonstration yesterday and the demonstration on Nakba Day is an attempt to develop a culture of non-violence in the struggle against the Israelis, or what’s called the popular resistance.
In Israel, they want to stop this because they are afraid knowledge of it will reach the international community, and that the internal Israeli community will join this peaceful struggle against colonialism and apartheid.
For that reason, they chose to kill people first and then to shoot them with tear gas.
Israel has claimed that the protesters were a “security threat” to Israel, despite the fact that they were unarmed. What is the real threat of these marches?
The real threat is to Israeli legitimacy in the international community. This was [why the demonstrators chose a] non-violent march and struggle.
Israel is constantly afraid of illegitimacy because their its is illegal. They carried out, with their own hands, ethnic cleansing in Palestine and the Golan during the wars of ’48 and ’67.
By their own hands, they changed the population of the place and they are putting settlers everywhere.
By their own hands, they are confiscating the lands and they are trying to dismiss the culture and presence in the place.
They use apartheid. They use ethnic cleansing. And they are using discrimination and inequality inside the state of Israel itself.
In Israel, there are 300,000 displaced Palestinians. They are Israeli [citizens]. They are carrying Israeli passports, but because they are Arabs, they were forcibly displaced from their own villages.
They are internal refugees and Israel doesn't recognise its responsibility for the refugees, or the ethnic cleansing and the apartheid functioning in Palestine.
We have enough bloodshed. On June 5, we paid a very high price in blood.
It’s a psychological disease of the Israelis: to fire at people [with] snipers, you see their face and you are trying to kill them because they are 100 metres from the fence.
And it is not their land. The Golan is Syrian territory.
I don’t just say that, international law says that the Golan is Syrian territory. The Israelis fired at people in Syrian territory and killed them.
How did residents in Majdal Shams feel when they saw the demonstration and the violence that ensued?
We had two buses on June 5. We had a field hospital to treat injured people in case there were any. At the end of the day, several injured people were treated by our crews.
It was sad to see others killed in front of us, while we could not give a hand to help, except provide political support. We felt very depressed. It’s very sad to see.
People here are Syrians and they want to be back in Syria. Or rather, they want Syria to be back in the Golan. It is Syrian territory. [It should be given back] in a peaceful way, not in war.
Can you talk about daily life in the Golan Heights and what challenges residents face there?
The Israelis occupied the Golan in 1967. They forced people to leave their homes. There are now 500,000 Syrian refugees from the Golan.
The Israelis [imposed] 18,000 settlers who monopolise the resources of the Golan — the minerals, landscape and atmosphere of the Golan — which is against international law.
The Israelis divided the resources and minerals of the place in a division of one to 10. I am an indigenous person of the Golan, I was born here and this is my land. Under this division, I share 10% of what we have in the Golan — if it’s water, if it’s land, if it’s landscape, if it’s health, if it’s education.
And 90% is given to the settlers in the Golan.
This is what I mean by apartheid and colonialism together. Colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid in one place.
What impact do you think the demonstrations will have on the residents of the Golan and elsewhere who are fighting for their rights under Israeli occupation?
We have been trying for several years, with the ideas of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, to develop a culture of non-violence and to develop a popular struggle against Israeli colonialism.
This is the way to invite others to join, to demonstrate against the Israelis in their embassies, in their companies. In many cases, we can invite others to stop investing in Israel or to pull investments from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Golan.
This is the only way to gather an international struggle in peaceful ways. This is our duty as human beings and this is the duty of other free people in this world. To feel free, people have to help others to be free.