Two hundred Jews and Arabs attended a ceremony at Tel Aviv University on Sunday to mark the 68th anniversary of the Palestinian “Nakba,” a term used by Palestinians to refer to the “catastrophe” of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
The event was held, as in years past, in front of the main entrance to the university rather than within the grounds of the institution.
Following instructions on the Facebook page for the event, many of the participants wore black and refrained from bringing partisan symbols, including Palestinian flags. Photos from the event, however, showed one Palestinian flag was placed on the speaker’s podium.
The event was attended by many members of the Joint (Arab) List, including party leader MK Ayman Odeh, MK Hanin Zoabi, MK Dov Khenin and MK Jamal Zahalka.
“The Nakba is our catastrophe: 531 villages were destroyed and whole families lost their entire worlds,” Odeh said during the event.
The Joint List leader continued: “It’s important to commemorate this day, especially in Tel Aviv, with a message to all of the citizens of Israel: The Nakba is not just a painful past, but also a possibility for a shared future. Only the recognition of past crimes will allow for the building of a shared citizenship based on equality and mutual respect.”
Joint List MK Osama Saadi, who also attended the ceremony, said, “At this extremely symbolic event at Tel Aviv University, Arab students are standing tall. In one hand, they are carrying the torch of knowledge and learning, and in the other hand the struggle for social and national justice as well as a just peace between two nations, which must be based on the principle of recognizing the Nakba of the Palestinian people.”
Protesters from the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization set up a small counter-protest near the Nakba Day event. The counter-protesters waved Israeli flags, held up signs that said “Nakba Day equals day of lies,” and set up a 15-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio nearby – “to emphasize the lie of the Nakba,” a statement from Im Tirztu said.
While last year’s Nakba Day event at the university saw a clash between participants and right-wing protesters, this year there were no reports of violence.
Every May, Palestinians and Arab Israelis – many of whom see themselves as Palestinians – hold rallies to commemorate the Nakba, the defeat and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in the 1948 war in which Israel gained its independence. Many of those refugees and their descendants, now numbering some five million according to the UN, live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or in neighboring Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
On Thursday, thousands of Israeli Arabs participated in the 19th annual “March of Return,” in which participants assert the right of descendants of Palestinians who fled Israel as a result of the 1948 War of Independence to return to the homes, or at least the land, they left.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.