Thousands of Arab Israelis on Thursday marked the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding and the dispossession that accompanied the creation of the Jewish state in an annual march to the empty Palestinian village of Khubbayza in northern Israel.
The Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) is observed on May 15, but marches commemorating Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the War of Independence in 1948-9 are held annually on Israel’s Independence Day.
Participants in the march held near the city of Umm al-Fahm waved Palestinian flags and shouted slogans demanding the “right of return” for the tens of thousands of refugees and their descendants.
Khubbayza was captured by Jewish paramilitary forces in mid-1948. According to the Israeli group Zochrot, after the Wadi Ara area was incorporated into Israel, the remains of Khubbayza were razed by the Jewish National fund.
A number of lawmakers attend Thursday’s march, including MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ofer Kassif of the majority Arab Hadash-Ta’al faction.
“We stress our right to the homeland and are against the Nation-State Law, which treats the Arab public as visitors. But we’re the owners of the place and are fighting to be equal citizens in our homeland,” Tibi said in a video posted from the event.
“Netanyahu tells us that we [Arabs] have 22 other countries, but we don’t, we have one homeland, and it’s here,” he said.
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 invaded, vowing 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 governments 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.
On Thursday, the organizing committee for the annual March of Return protests in the Gaza Strip called a general strike on May 15, and for mass participation at border protests to mark Nakba Day.
This year’s anniversary falls days after a sharp escalation of violence in Gaza that threatened an war all-out war between Israel and Hamas, the terror group that rules the Strip.