BEITUNIA, West Bank — Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers on Tuesday as Palestinians marked the “Nakba” — meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic — their name for the founding of Israel 64 years ago.
In contrast to recent years, the day also saw celebrations as Palestinian demonstrators reveled in what they considered a victory over Israel: a deal that brought an end to the hunger strikes of some 1,600 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, the biggest ever.
There were scattered demonstrations in East Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. But on the whole, the day was considerably less violent than last year, when at least a dozen protesters were killed by the Israeli military when trying to cross border fences from Syria and Lebanon into Israel.
Stone-throwing Palestinian youths were met Tuesday with tear gas and rubber bullets at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Jerusalem and at Ofer prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“We don’t want the occupation and we want Israel out,” 21 year-old Dalia Nassar told ABC News at the prison protest as young men with scarves wrapped around their faces hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers. The who responded with rounds of tear gas.
“I’m not against the existence of Jewish people, I’m against the existence of Israel itself on our land. I have no problem with one state, a democratic state that has Jewish people and Palestinian people,” she said. “But not with occupation.”
Palestinians use May 15 each year to mark the fleeing or eviction of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during and after the Arab-Israeli War of Independence that followed the establishment of Israel in 1948.
“Today, our people from all walks of life unite to commemorate the Nakba, which displaced our people — and they continue to suffer as a result,” Palestinian President Abbas said in a speech Tuesday. “Every Palestinian, man and women, [suffers] whether living under occupation or in the refugee camps.”
In the center of Ramallah, the demonstrations took on a more festive tone as they celebrated Monday’s deal that ended the hunger strikes of 1,600 prisoners, most of whom had been on strike for almost a month. Two prisoners were on their 78th day without food. They had been protesting solitary confinement, lack of family visits and the practice of “administrative detention,” which allows Israel to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge. Israel agreed to roll back the practices if the prisoners agreed “to completely halt terrorist activity inside Israeli prisons.”
Palestinian and Israeli officials had warned of an outbreak in violence if one or more of the hunger strikers died. The hunger strike hit close to home for Palestinians, many of whom have seen relatives spend time in Israeli prisons.
“A lot of people were woken up by it,” said university student Hanan Hussein at Ofer prison, hoping the hunger strike would galvanize Palestinians. “It just makes you think that you’re not doing enough for your country and you should be doing more.”