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Nakba Day commemorations pass largely peacefully; 3 arrested at Tel Aviv rally

Anniversary of Israel’s founding – which Palestinians deem ‘catastrophe’ – often sees heightened tensions, but few large rallies held this year

Palestinians wave national flags as they march in a rally marking the 74th anniversary of the 'Nakba' or 'catastrophe' of Israel's founding in the West Bank town of Ramallah, on May 15, 2022. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Palestinians wave national flags as they march in a rally marking the 74th anniversary of the 'Nakba' or 'catastrophe' of Israel's founding in the West Bank town of Ramallah, on May 15, 2022. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Palestinians and Arab Israelis held scattered Nakba Day commemorations to lament the establishment of the State of Israel on Sunday, with the day largely passing without incident.

Palestinians call Israel’s 1948 founding the Nakba, an Arabic word for catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war as the nascent Jewish state fought for its survival.

Rallies are held every year on May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Israelis celebrate their state’s establishment on the Hebrew date, which shifts from year to year according to the Jewish calendar.

While the anniversary is often marked by high tension, the day mostly passed quietly across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, with few major events held. A large rally in which thousands of Palestinians participated had already been held on Israeli Independence Day two weeks ago.

During a protest at Tel Aviv University, a few dozen Palestinians rallied to commemorate the “catastrophic” founding of Israel. Three Arab students were arrested by police after a brawl broke out between them and far-right activists from the Im Tirzu group, with both sides trading blame as to who was responsible.

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh condemned the arrest of the three students. Only one of them remained in custody as of Sunday evening; the other two were released without charges, according to an Arab Israeli activist.

“A salute to the student movement for their essential work commemorating the Nakba,” said Odeh.

Police arrest Arab Israeli students who allegedly brawled with far-right activists at Tel Aviv University during a Nakba Day commemoration on May 15, 2022. (Hadash)

But, the Tel Aviv rally aside, the day largely passed without incident.

In Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians joined a large rally in the city center. An air raid siren resounded through the Palestinian Authority seat to herald the anniversary.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not emerge from his compound to deliver remarks. But the Palestinian leader’s office issued a lengthy statement on Saturday night calling for Palestinians to resist “ethnic cleansing, settlement and Judaization.”

“Abbas called on Israel’s leaders to leave the blind cycle of denial of the other, which has proven its futility and failure, and the denial of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people,” Abbas’s office said, according to WAFA, the official PA news agency.

Abbas repeated the Palestinian Authority position on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

The PA leader also called for the “affirmation of the right of return and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.” Israelis consider the right of return for Palestinian refugees from 1948 to be a death knell to the Zionist dream of a Jewish-majority state.

Scattered events were also held across the country in Arab cities and towns to commemorate the day. Participants lit torches and sang patriotic songs.

“My homeland, my homeland. The youth will not tire until your liberation,” sang several young Arab Israelis in Nazareth, a national hymn.

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