Variations on the line the Israeli government fed to Israeli media yesterday about the killings of demonstrators in the Golan Heights Sunday have made its way to the U.S. media, despite there being little evidence produced to support their claims.
Israeli military officials on Monday disputed the casualty figures announced by Syria a day earlier, after Israeli forces fired on protesters who had tried to breach the Syrian frontier border with the Israeli-held Golan Heights. The discrepancy in numbers underlined the messages being conveyed by each side…
Israel said the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria was exploiting the Palestinian issue by sending unarmed protesters to the frontier in order to divert attention from its own antigovernment uprising and the bloody attempts to put it down.
Israel could not provide an exact number of how many protesters had been killed. But the Israeli military said Monday that 10 protesters were killed after they threw makeshift firebombs and started a fire that set off land mines near the border town of Quneitra, on the Syrian side of the lines.
“There were also a lot of shows being put on for the cameras,” said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military. “If somebody was shot in the toe, 30 people would crowd around with a stretcher. At night, when there was no shooting, the ambulances kept running up and down, their lights flashing in the dark.”
The Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor reports have similar bents. On CNN, Eliot Spitzer interviewed Aaron David Miller, and they both agreed that the protests had been “orchestrated” by the Assad regime, which is in the middle of suppressing its own uprising for democracy.
It very well may be that the Syrian regime decided not to block protesters from approaching the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But that is a far cry from saying that Syria deliberately orchestrated unarmed protests by, perhaps, paying demonstrators, implying that Palestinian refugees demanding their rights can’t protest on their own initiative. Max Blumenthal does a good job of casting doubt on the “demonstrators-for-hire” claim here.
More evidence and analysis point in the opposite direction of the Israeli military’s justifications that are printed in U.S. media. The Israeli government has not produced a shred of evidence in support of their claims (and if they have, do point them out to me). Yet there’s plenty of evidence to support claims of Israeli troops firing on protesters and killing them.
Before getting into the evidence and analysis, though, it’s worth asking: why were there only hundreds of people marching to the Golan Heights on Naksa Day, if the Assad regime really wanted to divert attention from their own oppressive tactics? Couldn’t they have brought out thousands if that were true? And why would they be blocking people from reaching the Golan again if they wanted to provoke Israel more?
Over at the Electronic Intifada, Jillian Kestler D’Amours, a journalist based in Jerusalem, interviews Salman Fakhreddin, an activist who protested in the Golan. His response testifies to reports that Israeli snipers killed unarmed demonstrators:
Yesterday, hundreds of refugees from Syria — Palestinians and Syrians — marched to the ceasefire line near Majdal Shams in a place called the Valley of Tears. We usually use this place for families [living opposite of the ceasefire line] to meet each other and to speak to each other with loudspeaker on all days of the year. Yesterday, it was a demonstration in memory of the war of ‘67 and the occupation of the Golan, West Bank and Gaza and Sinai. When these people reached the ceasefire line, the Israeli forces were well prepared with snipers. They were there already and they began firing live bullets and they killed and injured hundreds of people. Twenty-three people were killed yesterday.
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 yesterday 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 in order to frighten them not to continue with this demonstration because they are afraid of the delegitimization of the state of Israel and the Israeli policy in the international community.
On the other hand, the demonstration yesterday and the demonstration of Nakba Day [on 15 May] is trying to develop a culture of nonviolence in the area, in the struggle against the Israelis, or what’s called the popular resistance. In Israel, they want to stop that because they are afraid it will reach the knowledge of the international community and the internal Israeli community will join this struggle as a peaceful struggle against colonialism and apartheid in this place of the world.
I think the idea was to stop that and because of that, they chose this way: to kill people first and then to shoot them with tear gas.
An eyewitness account for Amnesty International reported on by the Ma’an News Agency deal further blows to Israeli claims:
The global rights group said they had spoken to a human rights activist in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who “contradicts IDF [Israeli army] claims that all possible non-lethal means were used to disperse the protesters before lethal force was used.”
The march, marking Naksa day which commemorates the 1967 war, saw thousands of demonstrators calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands rush the ceasefire line. Syria’s state media say 23 were killed by Israeli army fire, while the Israeli military say 10 died throwing Molotov cocktails toward landmines.
A human rights activist who was 10 meters from the army told Amnesty he saw Israeli soldiers sheltering behind multiple barbed wire fences and periodically firing live ammunition at protesters some 60 meters away between 11am to 9pm.
The activist said soldiers had initially warned protesters in Arabic before opening fire, as Israeli army statements had said, but that troops did not fire tear gas or sound bombs to disperse the protesters until around dusk, in contradiction to army assurances that all non-lethal means were used, Amnesty said in a statement.
The rights organization also noted that while military spokespeople said Israeli troops aimed at the lower half of protesters’ bodies, Syrian health authorities reported that the majority of injuries were to the upper body.
Amnesty said it was “seriously concerned that Israeli troops used excessive force by firing live ammunition against protesters who were not endangering the lives of Israeli military personnel or others.”
The Israeli disinformation about the Naksa Day killings are similar to what happened after the flotilla raid and the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah. But the U.S. media continues to print Israeli spin without investigating what really happened.