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Global march organizers say will not confront forces

March 18, 2012 10:22 A.M. (Updated: March 19, 2012 3:04 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Organizers of an international rally to support Palestinians at the end of the month said Sunday they are not interested in confrontation with the Israeli army, after similar demonstrations a year earlier ended in bloodshed.

"We are after all not an army, but popular peaceful international forces aiming to show solidarity with Palestine and with Jerusalem," spokesman of the Global March to Jerusalem Zahir Al-Birawi told Ma'an.

The group, who list Noble Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire as advisers, say they are organizing simultaneous rallies in 60 countries on March 30, which marks Palestinian Land Day.

Land Day commemorates the death of six Palestinian citizens of Israel, who took part in a general strike in protest of an Israeli decision to confiscate privately owned Palestinian lands in 1976.

Last Land Day saw Palestinians protest across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel without casualties.

But two months later simultaneous rallies to commemorate the Nakba -- the 'catastrophe' when thousands of Palestinians were forced out or fled in fighting that led to Israel's founding -- brought thousands towards Israel's borders in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, leaving 13 dead by Israeli fire.

In June, hundreds of protesters in Syria stormed the ceasefire line with Israel in the occupied Golan Heights, on Naksa Day, the anniversary of the 1967 war when Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai and Golan Heights. Damascus said 23 were killed when Israeli forces opened fire, while Israel disputed the toll.

A statement from the group said at the Land Day march "Palestinians and their international supporters will attempt to get as close to Jerusalem as they can: whether at the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, at checkpoints in the West Bank, or at the Erez crossing in Gaza."

Zahir Al-Birawi told Ma'an he expects millions to take part this year, and popular protests have been coordinated with governments in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, although not in Syria.

Organizers are waiting for confirmation from the Jordanian government on the most appropriate location for the country's protests, while in Egypt protests are planned at Al-Azhar Mosque, Tahrir Square, and a commemorative sports tournament in Cairo.

In Lebanon popular forces are working hard to determine a location for the rally near the border with Israel, and in Syria the organizers are coordinating with the local Palestinian population.

Al-Birawi noted that rallies would also take place in front of Israeli embassies world wide to protest Israel's occupation.

In Palestine, rallies have been prepared for four months, organizing committee member Salah Khawajah said.

But the organizers stressed the peaceful nature of the protests.

"During a time of upheaval throughout the Middle East, the nonviolent demonstrations on Palestinian Land Day this year could well mark a turning point in the Palestinian struggle for liberation and self-determination," a group statement said.
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