Palestinians Mark 'Catastrophe' With Rage

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - At least three Palestinians died violently Tuesday on the day Arabs marked the 53rd anniversary of what they call the "catastrophe" that befell them when the State of Israel was born.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians started early in the day, despite prior assertions by the Palestinians that the protests would be peaceful, and by the Israeli army that it would do its best to avoid friction.

Young Palestinians observed the day by throwing stones, firebombs and pipe bombs at soldiers at flashpoints in the Gaza Strip and throughout the West Bank.

In Ramallah, two Palestinians were reportedly killed and as many as 50 wounded. Earlier Ingrid Jaradat, director of a non-governmental organization which works for the rights of Palestinian refugees and their descendents, said that demonstrators in Ramallah would "express their protest" at Israeli checkpoints in the Ramallah area.

Some of the most violent clashes with Israeli troops during the 32-week confrontation called the intifada have occurred in that area, north of Jerusalem.

A third Palestinian died in an unrelated incident early Tuesday. Palestinian sources reported that a bodyguard of Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin was killed during an Israeli "attack" in Gaza.

According to the Israeli army's version of events, two "Palestinian terrorists" arrived in a car near the border between Israeli and PA-controlled areas and fired guns and two mortar shells at a passing Israeli army patrol.

"[The army] returned fire with one tank shell and destroyed the car. The two terrorists were killed," an army spokesperson said. The troops crossed the boundary, collected the launcher and mortars and returned to Israel, she added.

Hamas advocates armed struggle against Israel and opposes any sort of negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Islamic fundamentalist organization has claimed responsibility for dozens of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel.

Palestinian schools were closed for naqba ("catastrophe") day. Church bells rang, calls from mosques sounded and car horns honked at noon, followed by three minutes of silence in honor of those killed since 1948.

In a pre-recorded radio and TV broadcast, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat said there would be no peace without an Israeli return to the pre-1967 borders, and the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to within the State of Israel.

While former Prime Minister Ehud Barak last year agreed to give up nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip - in other words, move Israel back into the pre-1967 borders - he refused to accept the demand for the refugees' return. Arafat rejected the offer, and shortly thereafter the uprising began.

In his broadcast, Arafat said the time had come for the international community "to wake up to the injustice" suffered by the Palestinians and demand that Israel stop its "aggression."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the PA leader had squandered an opportunity to call on Palestinians to stop the violence.

A high-ranking Israeli army officer told reporters on Monday that the PA was trying to reach its goals by fighting. It was part of its process of negotiation, and not a popular struggle, he claimed.

The officer said the PA was doing it's best to provoke Israel into over-reacting, but Israel would do its best to try to avoid friction.

Israel would only use "non-lethal weapons" to disperse Palestinian crowds, he said, although anyone shooting at troops with live ammunition would get live fire returned.