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In Israel with the 2011 General and Flag Officers Trip – Update #1, Border Breaches

May 19, 2011

The JINSA Flag and General Officers group arrived in Israel at the end of “Naqba Day,” during which organized groups of Palestinians tried to breech Israel’s borders from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. From American media coverage, it appeared that the State of Israel was being invaded. From Israel, it was serious more for what it could portend for the future than for the demonstrations themselves. Over the ensuing two days, the JINSA group delved into the differences in the IDF response in each place and talked with IDF planners about how Israel can cope with hostile civilian demonstrations and under what circumstances force – lethal or otherwise – is appropriate.

Monday at the Erez Crossing in Gaza we watched video of the demonstrators and saw the restraint with which they were met. Only when the actual border was breeched was there a response – non-lethal – and the crowd dispersed. While we were at Erez only a few Palestinians, mostly women, were using the crossing for medical purposes. (Which raised a larger question – we were in a very high tech facility designed to let 40,000 Palestinians to transit to Israel every day. Of course, almost none do. Who prevents them was the subject of discussion in the group. It was evident to the group that Hamas has no interest in an open border crossing allowing Palestinians to work in Israel and work with Israelis. It was a big lesson.)

In the north of Israel, we learned that the IDF had warned UNIFIL in Lebanon that a large group of Palestinians would be moving toward the border from inside Lebanon, that the IDF would not permit the fence that serves as a border to be crossed, and that UNIFIL should be prepared to help the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) meet the crowd. UNIFIL instead made itself scarce. There was violence as the fence was attacked by demonstrators and when the LAF took control there was further bloodshed. (The Israelis were pleased, however, that the LAF had intervened at all.)

At the Syrian-Israeli border, by the time the IDF met the crowd, force was not appropriate and more than 100 Palestinians and Druze entered Israel. Most were removed, but one intrepid Syrian hitchhiked to Tel Aviv where he was arrested.

The commander of the IDF Staff College met with us to discuss various approaches to what he believes will be an ongoing border problem.

Report by Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director for Security Policy

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