Palestinians protested Wednesday for the annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were expelled or fled during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
Thousands gathered at various locations along the volatile border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, while crowds also demonstrated in the occupied West Bank.
Protests and clashes in Gaza a year earlier, which coincided with the controversial move of the U.S. embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, had seen more than 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire but Wednesday’s were smaller.
The clashes on Wednesday erupted along parts of the border fence, with the health ministry in Gaza reporting 65 people injured, including 16 with gunshot wounds.
Protesters largely avoided approaching the fence, an AFP journalist said.
The AFP journalist on the border saw a number of kites being floated across the border and a fire breaking out inside Israeli territory.
Angered Palestinians in Gaza have sometimes used kites with firebombs attached to them to set fires on the Israeli side of the fence.
Israel’s military said around 10,000 “rioters and demonstrators” were along the Gaza fence.
“The rioters are setting tires on fire and hurling rocks,” it said in a statement.”
It said “troops are responding with riot dispersal means.”
‘Will to Return’
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, protesters held up giant paper keys to symbolize their will to return to the lands and homes they were expelled from or were forced to abandon, now located inside Israel.
Palestinians commemorate the Nakba every year.
More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their land during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
Under international law, refugees who flee or are expelled from their homes during a war are guaranteed a “right of return,” which was not granted following the 1948 war.
It’s 71 years since the Nakba, when at least 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes during the creation of the state of Israel.
This Christian Palestinian takes us through neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that have been destroyed to make way for Israeli settlers. pic.twitter.com/pYi5noJfzf
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 15, 2019
This year’s protests came two weeks after a deadly flare-up between Israel and Gaza militants which threatened to spill into a new war.
After two days a truce was reached under which Israel is meant to ease its blockade of the strip in exchange for calm, according to Hamas officials. Israel has not commented on the truce.
Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas figure, told AFP at a protest site east of Gaza City the “truce understandings played a role in controlling the demonstrations” on Wednesday.
Separately, there have also been regular protests and clashes along the Gaza border for more than a year.
At least 293 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since the protests began in March 2018.
The majority died from gunshot wounds sustained during the weekly protests, though others were killed in Israeli air strikes or by tank fire that Israeli officials claim was in response to violence from Gaza.
Violence peaked on May 14, 2018 when 62 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire as tens of thousands approached the border.
A United Nations probe in February accused Israeli snipers of indiscriminately firing upon Palestinians including journalists, medics, handicapped people and children, resulting in possible crimes against humanity.
Israel strongly rejected the report.
Six Israelis have been killed in Gaza-related violence over the same time period.