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Israel got its first real taste of the Arab spring Sunday as tens of thousands of Palestinians and their supporters amassed on its borders to protest its creation 63 years ago – an event they refer to as the "nakba," or catastrophe. Ten people were killed and hundreds injured as some protesters attempted to breach Israel's borders and clashes broke out with Israeli security forces.
The unprecedented protests, fueled by both a spirit of uprising and a moribund peace process, have reignited Arab-Israeli tensions over Israel's sovereignty even as Palestinians are pressing for international recognition of their own sovereignty at the UN this fall.
Arabs – and perhaps their leaders, eager to deflect criticism of their own regimes – are rallying to the Palestinian cause with the same fervor that has toppled two presidents and caused several regimes to teeter.
“The Israeli government is worried by the revolutions now happening in the Arab world,” said Ibrahim Helmy, 29. “They will benefit by putting them down, and we can’t let that happen. We all deserve freedom, including and especially the Palestinians.”
Both sides are going to the United Nations Security Council with complaints of that their sovereignty has been violated.
Israel's UN delegation announced Monday that it is filing a complaint to the Security Council against Syria and Lebanon. Israel accused the two countries of violating international law and Security Council resolutions when they did not prevent Palestinian refugees from breaching their borders with Israel on Sunday, the Jerusalem Post reported.
"The attempt to infiltrate into Israel is a clear manifestation of the lack of acceptance of Israel's sovereignty as a country," opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Monday.
Lebanon has already filed a complaint with the Security Council against Israel for firing into Lebanese territory in an attempt to stop demonstrators from crossing the border. The complaint states that fire by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which killed 10 and wounded more than 100, is a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty and shows disregard for UN resolutions.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday praised those who demonstrated at the Lebanese-Israeli border and said their "right of return" – the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes that are now within Israel's borders – would come soon, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We must bow before the courage, the bravery, of those who protested yesterday at Lebanon and Syria’s borders with occupied Palestine, who faced the tyranny of the enemy with bare chests and their heads held high,” Nasrallah said in a Hezbollah statement quoted by AFP.
“Your message, loud and clear, to the enemy is that you will liberate your lands, that the fate of this entity (Israel) is demise, and that no initiatives, treaties or borders will protect it,” he added in the statement. “You, the honorable, have given the nakba new meaning.”
The Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star said condemnation of Israel's actions has poured in from government officials representing several different political factions. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said those who died in the clashes were martyrs for the Palestinian cause.
"Their precious blood will not be wasted. It was spilt for the sake of our nation's freedom," President Abbas said in a televised address.
In the wake of the clashes and international pressure, Israel reversed its earlier refusal to hand over revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) from taxes and customs fees levied on Palestinians working in Israel and said it would disperse $86 million this week, Ma'an News Agency reports. Israel began withholding the revenue from the PA after Fatah, the Palestinian political party that controls the PA and the West Bank, signed a unity pact with Hamas, the militant Islamist party that controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the US.
Protesters in Egypt and Lebanon – where the turnout far exceeded organizers' expectations – called for a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel.
But while the clashes have heightened concerns of a third intifada – one that could be more regional this time – Haaretz analyst Zvi Bar'el dismisses a third uprising as unlikely, as it would compromise Palestinians' drive for UN recognition of their sovereignty in September.
The idea that Sunday's events are precursors of a third intifada is not particularly convincing. The Palestinian Authority, this time together with Hamas, is determined to get to September without compromising its legitimacy. Any violent outbursts would serve Israel, which would use them to portray the Palestinian leadership as a group of terrorists.
The clashes give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to meet with President Obama at the White House later this week, the opportunity to tell the US and others pushing for progress on a peace agreement that Israel has no one with whom it can make an agreement, Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot reports.
He wanted to leverage the Nakba events in order to clarify to Obama and the Europeans that while they want a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders – the Palestinians are completely unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“These events are taking place on a day that marks the establishment of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu underscored. “As they declare, the leaders of these violent demonstrations themselves, their struggle is not over the 1967 borders but, rather, disputes the very existence of the State of Israel, which they refer to as a disaster that must be rectified. It is important for us to look at reality with open eyes and know whom we are facing and what we are facing.