RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinians marching to remember the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding and the dispossession that accompanied the creation of the Jewish state clashed with Israeli forces in the West Bank on Monday, leaving several wounded.
Annual marches are held on May 15 to mark what Palestinians call the “Nakba,” or catastrophe in Arabic.
At a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah, dozens of Palestinian youths hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets and the foul-smelling riot control spray known as skunk.
A Palestinian emergency worker said that 11 Palestinians were taken to the hospital, most of them wounded by rubber bullets. The extent of their injuries was not known.
Earlier, thousands of people carrying Palestinian flags marched through the city, many carrying large keys to symbolize their claims to the homes they lost in 1948.
“I come every year to commemorate this anniversary, this catastrophe,” said Salha Orabi, a descendant of refugees and now a resident of the nearby Jelazoun refugee camp.
“The Nakba for us symbolizes destruction,” he added. “It is us who have left our homes and our land.”
In Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians stoned Israeli troops guarding Rachel’s Tomb, a shrine venerated by Jews and Muslims, an AFP photographer said. Soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In 1948, more than 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the war surrounding Israel’s declaration of independence, when neighboring Arab countries vowed to wipe the nascent Jewish state off the map.
For the Palestinians, the so called “right of return” for refugees and their millions of descendants to the homes they fled or were forced to leave is a prerequisite for any peace agreement with Israel. All Israeli government have firmly rejected the demand as representing a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel as a Jewish state by demographic means. Palestinian refugees should be absorbed in a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord, Israel says, just as Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries, many of whom were forced to leave their countries of birth.
The May 15 anniversary came this year against the backdrop of a hunger strike by Palestinians in Israeli prisons, led by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences for orchestrating deadly terror attacks against Israelis during the Second Intifada.
In what the Palestine Liberation Organization said in a statement was a message from his solitary confinement cell, Barghouti said the fast, in its 29th day on Monday, would go on indefinitely.
“My oath and pledge to the prisoners and our people is to pursue the battle for freedom and dignity until it reaches its stated goals,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.