Palestinians on Sunday marked the anniversary of their “Nakba” (“Catastrophe”) — namely the dispossession that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel almost seven decades ago — with sirens and low-key marches.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven out in the war over Israel’s 1948 creation. The refugees, estimated today to number about 5.5 million with their descendants, mostly still live in the region.
Sirens wailed for 68 seconds Sunday in the West Bank to mark the passing of 68 years since what Palestinians call their “Catastrophe.”
Cars stopped and pedestrians stood still in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem during the commemoration.
Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians marked the day in marches and other public commemoration events. Many were seen holding keys and other props to symbolize their demand to return to what is now Israel.
At a march in the Ramallah-area town of el-Bireh, dozens of marchers were dispersed by Palestinian Authority security forces, Palestinian media reported. The Ma’an news service said officers prevented dozens of young men who were burning tires in the town’s main street from approaching a nearby Israeli army checkpoint.
In Bethlehem, Palestinians marked the day with a specially designed “Return Train.” A symbolic demonstration of the Palestinian “right of return,” the train bore the names of Arab towns and villages depopulated in 1948, and made its way through city flanked by hundreds of marchers waving Palestinian flags.
According to Ma’an, Israeli soldiers fired two canisters of tear gas at the crowds when the train approached the main checkpoint.
Along the Israel-Gaza border, clashes erupted Sunday afternoon between IDF soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators. The low-level clashes broke out amid calls from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist groups urging uprisings against Israel.
Meanwhile in Israel, 200 Jews and Arabs attended a Nakba Day ceremony at Tel Aviv University.
Many members of the Joint (Arab) List, including party leader MK Ayman Odeh, MK Hanin Zoabi, MK Dov Khenin and MK Jamal Zahalka, were present at the event.
“The Nakba is our catastrophe: 531 villages were destroyed and whole families lost their entire worlds,” Odeh said during the event.
The Joint List leader continued: “It’s important to commemorate this day, especially in Tel Aviv, with a message to all of the citizens of Israel: The Nakba is not just a painful past, but also a possibility for a shared future. Only the recognition of past crimes will allow for the building of a shared citizenship based on equality and mutual respect.”
Near the event, protesters from the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization set up a small counter-protest. Activists waved Israeli flags, held up signs that said “Nakba Day equals day of lies,” and set up a 15-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio nearby — “to emphasize the lie of the Nakba,” a statement from Im Tirztu said.
For the Palestinians, the right to return to homes they fled or were forced out of is a prerequisite for any peace agreement with Israel, but it is a demand the Jewish state has rejected.
Israel says it will never accept a “right of return,” arguing it would threaten the state by diluting its Jewish majority. Israel argues that Palestinian refugees should be absorbed in a Palestinian state, in the same way that Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.