A May 20 report from Human Rights Watch alleges that Israeli snipers may have picked off unarmed demonstrators at the Nakba protest last Sunday in the Lebanese village of Maroun al-Rass. 10 protesters were killed in Lebanon as tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees approached the Lebanon-Israel border, demanding the right of return.
An estimated 50,000 people gathered in Maroun al-Rass for a planned commemoration of Nakba Day, according to four participants. A Human Rights Watch researcher was also present to monitor the demonstration. The witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at 10:45 a.m., a group of protesters tried to move toward the nearby border fence, but that Lebanese anti-riot police, crowd-control officials with clubs, and Lebanese military pushed them back. Ibrahim Dirani, a photojournalist who was near the border, said that “when they [Lebanese army] fired in the air to push the protesters back, the protesters got excited and started throwing rocks at the [Lebanese] army.” At around noon, a group of several hundred people, primarily young men, overwhelmed the security forces and ran toward the fence.
A second witness who was close to the fence told Human Rights Watch:
When they reached the fence, they started throwing rocks toward the Israeli side. There were some Israeli soldiers but you could not see them that well. They were hidden behind the trees… Suddenly, we heard two shots from the Israeli side and saw one protester fall dead.
But the protesters would not be deterred. They continued throwing rocks. At around 2:30 to 3 p.m. a Merkava tank came and released white smoke. Behind the tank and the smoke, more Israeli soldiers arrived. And at that point, we heard a lot more gunfire. It was intermittent fire, as if shot by snipers.
Human Rights Watch observed the Israeli tank as well as what appeared to be a sniper outpost consisting of a small earth mound with a window on the side. Demonstrators close to the fence said they saw more than a dozen Israeli soldiers, many of them behind a row of trees, and a military jeep. “I heard Israeli soldiers shoot every few minutes,” the photojournalist said. “It was like the shooting was done by snipers, because after each shot we would see a wounded person fall.” Human Rights Watch saw the crowd carrying the apparently dead body of a boy or youth away from the fence, and saw another man, 22-year-old Munib al-Masri, who was shot in the abdomen and taken to a hospital. A third protester was shot in the head and killed.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for investigations into the Israeli military’s conduct on May 15, when thousands of Palestinian protesters from Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan demanded their right to return to villages in what is now Israel.