The Demonstrations on Israel’s Borders in Jordan and Lebanon during the “Guardian of the Walls” Military Operation: Grassroots Protests or Premeditated Outbursts of Rage?

In June issue of Beehive, Shay Jovany compares social mobilisation in Jordan and Lebanon against the Israeli military operation “Guardian of the Walls”. This article is part of special issue, "Social Media in Times of Conflict", which analyses social media activism during the recent military conflict and communal disturbances in May 2021.

picture1 - Yala ala-l-hudud

"Yallah, to the Border", Group page, Facebook (last accessed 23 June 2021). 

Following several days of violence and civil unrest on the Temple Mount complex and in the Sheikh al-Jarah neighborhood, Hamas fired several rockets at Jerusalem on May 10. This triggered the “Guardian of the Walls” military operation, which similar to Israel’s past operations in Gaza, led to an outpouring of concern and condemnation in the international media and on social media platforms, including in the Arab world.

The drastic rise in online activity soon influenced physical manifestations in two of Israel’s neighbors: Jordan and Lebanon. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is responsible for the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, through the activities of the Islamic Waqf and according to the regulations comprised in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. In the Jordanian social media, the call to “Save Sheikh al-Jarrah” was circulating even prior to the beginning of the Guardian of the Walls military operation, but after it started and toward the first Friday, the social media discourse began to change, calling upon Jordanians to move en masse to the border with Israel.

Numerous pages and groups were created on Facebook, and numerous accounts were created on Twitter for promoting and organizing this movement. These groups began to operate approximately between 12-13 May and their activity ceased on 16 May, with a very large number of active members considering Jordanian Standards.[1] A central group to the movement had over 180,000 members (primarily Jordanian), but was shut down by Facebook due to alleged violations of the terms of use.

In addition to numerous “live updates” of recent events in Gaza, quotes of Israeli media outlets on rocket attacks onto Israel and Israeli attacks on Gaza, these social media groups began to post and disseminate pictures and videos of the official spokesmen of the “Palestinian Resistance” factions, and among them Abu Ubaidah. Abu Ubeidah, the Chief Spokesman of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, quickly became a symbol of the fighting in Gaza for many Palestinians and Arab observers.

These groups also served as a catalyst for mobilizing protests in support of the Palestinians throughout Jordan and primarily in two locations: in front of the Israeli Embassy in Amman and on the border with Israel, specifically next to the monument remembering the 1968 battle of al-Karamah. This monument symbolizes the Jordanian victory over Israeli forces that had invaded Jordanian territory in order to destroy a PLO camp used to launch attacks on Israel in March 1968.

picture2 - praising Abu Ubaidah

Post on Twitter praising Abu Ubaidah: "Oh! Abu Ubaidah the hero!..." [2]

The Jordanian movement in solidarity with Palestinian resistance factions was not limited to Facebook and Twitter. An official Telegram channel was also created to further promote the border protests under the name “Juma‘ah of the Millions: Yallah, to the Border!”[3] Over 3,500 users followed this channel in 3 days, which operated unrestrained – supposedly due to Telegram’s comparatively lax terms of service and use.

All of the movement’s platforms were used to disseminate logistical information, such as meeting points for buses to the border, timetables for protests, and so on, and to warn participants that the protests were to be peaceful, to be held without weapons, and that everyone was to stand behind the Hashemite Kingdom.

picture3 - message  on telegram

Message on Telegram with info on the protests.[4]

The calls to gather in protest next to the monument commemorating the Battle of al-Karamah were especially prominent. Hundreds of protesters reached border areas by organized bus transports next to the Allenby Crossing on Friday 14 May. A number of them also attempted to cross the border while crying out jingoistic slogans in praise of Hamas and Abu Ubaidah.

Numerous media outlets called these actions “unprecedented cases of popular organization,” in light of the organizational capabilities of the Jordanian public without any clear ties to political groups. Jordanian security forces had no choice but to disperse the protesters with warning shots, in order to prevent them from infiltrating the border.[5]

Wide swathes of the Jordanian public took part in the demonstrations, including tribesmen, Palestinians, representatives of political parties, and others. These protesters called on the King of Jordan, Abdallah II, to open the border with Israel, to renege on the peace treaty, and to declare Jihad against Israel.[6] Despite their support for the Hashemite regime and the Palestinian society in Jerusalem, these protests may have served as an alternate channel for the Jordanian public to pressure the Hashemite regime under the disguise of supporting the Palestinians in lieu of pursuing a domestic protest movement that could have been more easily repressed by the regime.

Jerusalem played a central role also in Lebanon during the “Guardian of the Walls” military operation and the events that led up to it despite the country’s domestic crises. Many protesters in Lebanon quickly assembled on the border with Israel to protest, but in a different fashion than in Jordan. Protesters organized and held protests in al-Adayseh, Maroun al-Ras, Kfar Kila and other places on the border, but in many cases these protesters waved Hezbollah flags. Numerous other Lebanese political parties and organizations as well took part in the protests. At times, outbursts of violence also took place, in contrast to the events in Jordan, and in some occasions protesters attempted to climb the border fence seeking to destroy surveillance cameras. The Lebanese military intervened and thwarted confrontations with the Israeli army.

Numerous organizations in Lebanon, both local and national, took part in organizing these border protests; these include: the Amal movement (a Shia political party and ally of Hezbollah); the Syrian National Socialist Party (a pro-Greater Syria Syrian political party active in both Lebanon and Syria since the 1930s); the al-Murabitoun organization (a Nasserist organization); the Jema‘ah al-Islamiyah (the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Lebanon); and even the al-Mustakbal (Future Movement, led by Saad al-Hariri) all took part in organizing the protests.

The central event in these demonstrations was the death of an “innocent” Lebanese protester on 14 May. The protester, a Shia young man named Muhammad Tahhan, from the town of Adalon in southern Lebanon, was killed by Israeli soldiers after he attempted to cross the border into Israel during a particularly violent protest. From the social media and news outlets coverage of the event, it appears that Tahhan was in fact a Hezbollah operative – Hezbollah organized the funeral, the coffin was wrapped in a Hezbollah flag, and a representative of Hezbollah spoke at the ceremony.[7]

picture4 - twitter

Post from Twitter, 15 May 2021 (@Huda28mirza, last accessed 23 June 2021)

Nothing occurs in South Lebanon without Hezbollah knowing about it. Numerous news outlets later published further details about Hezbollah’s goals, maintaining that Hezbollah was uninterested in escalating the conflict with Israel, especially after Tahhan’s death.[8] Tahhan’s affiliation with Hezbollah was later corroborated when Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah stated that his death would be added to Hezbollah’s list of claims for revenge in a future conflict with Israel. This list began in July 2020, after Ali Kamel Mohsen was killed in Syria by an airstrike attributed to Israel.

Social media platforms in Lebanon experienced an uptick in activity following Nasrallah’s statement on Tahhan. Hezbollah defined him as a “Martyr [Shahid] on the road to Jerusalem” who was killed in an attempt to cross the border and, thus, joined numerous other martyrs who were killed in the defense of Jerusalem. The hashtag “Border-Crossing Shahid[9] began to trend in the days following Tahhan’s death.[10]

picture5 - post from twitter

Post from Twitter, 14 May 2021 (@Ftounifatima, last accessed 23 June 2021)

At a first glance, in both Lebanon and Jordan, a “popular” movement spontaneously formed in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israel. In Jordan, there have been similar movements in the past, such as the “Global Jerusalem March” of June 2014 in the area of the Jordan Valley, during which representatives of 80 countries and the Jordanian Islamic Movement held a large rally in defense of Jerusalem. In Lebanon, similar events are the border protests on the annual “Nakba” day, such as the protests of May 2011 on Lebanon’s southern border, in which hundreds protesters approached the border in solidarity with Palestinians against the Israeli occupation of all of Palestine.

A closer examination of these apparently “grassroots” movements reveal some clear differences between the two countries. In Jordan, the movement genuinly formed “bottom up,” with only minor input and cooperation from political parties and organizations.

In Lebanon, on the contrary, a large number of political parties and organizations played key roles in organizing and holding the border protests – this can be attributed to a number of factors, including the desire of these actors to create distractions from Lebanon’s own domestic issues. Furthermore, in Jordan both the government and the public responded publicly and aggressively to the Israeli military operation, whereas in Lebanon, the issue was less discussed by the wider public and even less in the government.

Shay Jovany is an M.A. student at Tel Aviv University, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies.

[1]Facebook Blocked ‘Yala ala al-Hudud’ Group”, Roya News, 16 May 2021.

[2] @rdooan, Twitter, 14 May 2021; last accessed 23 June 2021. English translation of the post: “Oh! Abu Ubaidah the hero! Here we are in the Jordan Valley! Jordanian protestors shouting near the border with Occupied Palestine. More Busses should be here any minute now. #Palestine_Protests”.

[3] Telegram Channel, الجمعة المليونية – يلا على الحدود [Al-Juma‘a Al-Milionia – Yala Ala Al-Hudud], Telegram; last accessed 10 June 2021.

[4] @M970Y, Telegram, 13 May 2021; last accessed 10 June 2021. English translation of the message: “Bus stops for driving towards the border and instructions from the organizers – Protesters should be under 18 years old; Everyone should have Identification Papers; Every protester should bring water and food; Weapons are restricted; The protest is not connected to any organization or party; The protest is peaceful and is going to happen in front of the heroes of Jordanian army and borders police; The protesters support the Hashemite Leaders.”

[5] Dana Jibril, “‘Yala Ala al-Hudud’: Jordanians Moving Towards Palestine”, 7iber, 15 May 2021.

[9] #شهيدالعبور, Twitter, last accessed 23 June 2021.

[10]Mohammad Tahhan: The Border Crossing Martyr”, Al-Modon, 14 May 2021.