Thousands of Arab citizens marched in Lavie Forest near Tiberius on Tuesday, Israel’s Independence Day, to mark the Nakba or “catastrophe” – the Arab community’s name for the 1948 war in which Israel came into existence, and in which 760,000 of them fled or were forced into exile.

The procession, an annual event titled “The March of Return,” has been held since 1998. Each year organizers choose the location of a different Arab village ruined in the War of Independence and march there, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes. Former villagers who are now displaced inside Israel are invited to come and tell stories of olden times.

This year the demonstrators, many of whom were waving Palestinian flags, were marching to the ruins of the Arab village of Lubya, which was captured by Israeli forces during the war and later demolished. The Lavie Forest was later grown on top of the former village and its surrounding area.

The rally took place as many Jewish families gathered in other parts of the forest to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. A large number of police forces were spread out in the area to prevent confrontations.

Motti Dotan, head of the Lower Galilee regional council, had asked the rally’s organizers in advance to refrain from holding it on Tuesday.

“I categorically reject your intention to hold a procession and gathering specifically on Israel’s day of celebration,” Dotan wrote in a letter to the organizers, noting that thousands of Israelis were expected in the forest on Tuesday. The rally, he said, “is an excellent opportunity to create a violent confrontation between the thousands of revelers and yourselves.”

However, Wakim Wakim, a lawyer for the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (ADRID) and one of the rally’s organizers, rejected this demand.

Stressing that the procession had been authorized by police, Wakim was quoted by Ynet as saying. “We have been promised that police will reinforce its presence to prevent confrontations. We have no intention to clash with anyone.”

Another organizer, Rasul Saada, told Haaretz: “We want to convey a message to everyone, a message that tells the story of the Palestinian Nakba…the intention is to share this with the public in general and the Israeli public in particular…[to share] the story of the Nakba and what happened in 1948, because the young generation has not forgotten and will not forget what happened.”