JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel is preparing for a mass Palestinian protest on the border with Gaza for the annual Land Day observance.
The army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said in interviews Wednesday ahead of the planned protests of an estimated 100,000 Palestinians and another six weeks of protests that soldiers could use live fire if the protesters breach the security barrier between Gaza and Israel and if it is determined that Israeli lives are in danger.
Land Day has been observed by Palestinians around the world since 1976, when six Israeli Arabs were killed and another 100 injured in clashes on March 30 with Israeli soldiers and police during protests over the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel by the state for housing for Jewish citizens.
This year, Land Day coincides with the start of the Passover and Good Friday holidays.
The march to the border fence is meant to be a form of nonviolent protest. It is to be followed by six weeks of protest at the border until May 15, the date on the Gregorian calendar marking 70 years since the establishment of the state of Israel, which the Arab world calls the Nakba, or catastrophe. It is also the date by which the Trump administration has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
The six weeks of protest will include several tent camps housing thousands of protesters living near the border.
Eisenkot said that more than 100 special forces snipers have been deployed to the border with Gaza, and they are authorized to open fire if the protesters breach the fence and believe Israeli lives are in danger.
In the last week, Gazan Palestinians have breached the border fence and entered Israel four times. Earlier this week, three Gaza Palestinians carrying knives and grenades were captured near the Tzeelim army base in southern Israel, about 12 miles from the border.
Earlier in the week, the United Nations envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed concern that Palestinian children would be put at risk during the six-week protest at the border.
“It is imperative that civilians, in particular children, not be targeted and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk at any time,” he told the Security Council on Monday. “I call on all sides to exercise restraint and to take the necessary steps to avoid violent escalation.”
Israeli-Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi said in an interview with Army Radio earlier this week that Palestinians would breach the fences of West Bank Jewish settlements during the weeks-long protest.
“Not only in Gaza, also in the West Bank, there’s no doubt that there will be popular opposition,” he said. “People without weapons, in a peaceful way, will breach the settlements.”