Police have refused to grant a permit for the upcoming “March of Return,” one of the annual events held by Arab Israelis to mark the Nakba — the “catastrophe” of the creation of the Jewish state.
The march, scheduled to take place on Israel’s 69th Independence Day in early May, was nixed by police, who said there was insufficient manpower to secure the event due to the large number of holiday celebrations taking place across the country, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.
Each year, the event draws thousands of Arab Israelis, and large numbers of police are typically deployed in the area to prevent potential confrontations with Jewish Israelis celebrating Independence Day, though no arrests or incidents of violence have been reported in recent years.
Since its start in 1998, organizers each year choose the location of a different Arab village destroyed in the War of Independence and march there, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes.
This year’s march was planned to take place near the northern village of al-Kabri, and organizers last month filed permit requests at the nearby Nahariya police precinct.
Organizers told Haaretz they were surprised they were denied a permit since they had already reached a preliminary agreement with Nahariya police to hold the march.
Wissam Arid, a lawyer for the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (ADRID) and one of the rally’s organizers, claimed the permit was denied for political reasons.
“We are confident that this is a politically motivated decision,” Arid said “We will stand up for our right to commemorate this event, and are committed to upholding the conditions that guarantee the safety and security of all participants.”
Police in response denied the decision was motivated by politics, insisting the timing of the annual march made it impossible to secure.
“It should be noted that securing a march in which some 25,000 people are expected to attend requires special police preparations which are not possible at this time,” the statement said.
“This decision was made based on professional and practical considerations only and attempts to attribute the decision to other motivations are distorted and wrong.”
The statement said it was “regrettable” that organizers were determined to hold the march on Independence Day when law enforcement was “investing all of its resources in securing millions of civilians throughout the country,” and called for the event to be held at a later date.
Last year, a Galilee councilman requested the march, which proceeded through the Lavie Forest near Tiberias, be moved to a different date to avoid potential clashes with the Jewish families gathered there to celebrate Independence Day.
Organizers refused, stressing the nonviolent nature of the event and that it had been authorized by police.
Every May, Palestinians and Arab Israelis 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 several million, live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or in neighboring Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.