SIDON, Lebanon: Palestinians across Lebanon staged a strike Sunday to mark the 34th anniversary of the1967 war, while armed forces on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border stepped up their security measures in anticipation of protests in the area.
In Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, the mood was calm and the anniversary was marked in silence, in stark contrast to what had been initially planned for the day.
Palestinian organizers had planned to march to Lebanon’s border with Israel, but last week the Lebanese Army announced the establishment of a “closed military zone” which would prevent protesters from reaching the border. The closure was meant to avoid a repeat of the events of the Nakba march on May 15, during which Israeli forces killed 11 protesters and wounded hundreds, as thousands marched toward the occupied Palestinian territories.
As a result of the army’s decision and after Palestinian refugees refused to hold the protest at a different location, the “preparatory committee of the return march” canceled Sunday’s rally.
Some residents of Ain al-Hilweh expressed disappointment at not being allowed to march to the Blue Line, while others preferred staying in Ain al-Hilweh out of respect for the decision by the Lebanese Army.
“My dad had promised to take me to the Palestinian border, but the plan was canceled … maybe next time I will get to see Palestine,” said 10-year-old Mohammad Zbeidat.
Early Sunday, the Lebanese Army and the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon began increasing their presence along the Blue Line near Kafarshouba, Berket al-Naqqar and Shebaa Farms.
On the other side of the border fence, the Israeli Army went on full alert as it deployed tanks, soldiers and border patrols in preparation for a possible confrontation with Palestinian protesters.
Another Palestinian, Mohammad Saalab said that he should been able to move to Palestine 50 years ago.
“This is what is stated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 194,” he said, “but who implements it?”
Adopted in 1948, Resolution 194 calls for the return of all willing Palestinian refugees to their homeland and for compensation to be paid for the property of those not wishing to return.
“There will come a day when we will go back to Palestine,” Saalab added.
A member of the Palestinian follow-up committee, Fouad Osman, said that the right of return deserves sacrifices and acts of martyrdom because it is a sacred right, and it should not be compromised in peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
“We hoped that our Lebanese brothers would allow us to express our commitment to the right of return of Palestinian refugees by marching to south Lebanon along the Palestinian borders, even if we were going to lose men,” Osman told The Daily Star.
Despite the Palestinian committee’s decision to cancel Sunday’s march, more than 40 people gathered near the southern village of Adaysseh, waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Zionist slogans.
The Lebanese Army quicklycordoned off the area and called on the protesters not to approach the border fence.
Meanwhile, residents of the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut and Burj al-Shemali in Tyre burned tires, protesting that they were unable to march to the border.
For their part, residents and Palestinian factions in Nahr al-Bared held a gathering at al-Fardous hall in the refugee camp, marking the anniversary of the 1967 war in their own way.
Speaking at the gathering, Secretary of the Union of Committees for the right of return of Nahr al-Bared, Abdallah Zib, called on the international community to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands occupied during the 1967 war.