Services and protests were held across the West Bank Wednesday to commemorate the 65th Nakba Day, the “catastrophe” of Palestinian displacement resulting from the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Sirens blared at noon for 65 seconds, in line with the 65th year of commemoration, and services were held in Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Jericho, and other locations. Israeli police on horseback dispersed hundreds of Palestinian protesters in east Jerusalem. In Ramallah, thousands marched from the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to the city center. Many wore black in a sign of mourning, holding Palestinian flags and large keys symbolizing the homes they left behind.
“The right of return will not die,” chanted the protesters, referring to the demand for millions of descendants of Palestinians who lived in what is today Israel to return to their homes — a move that would spell the end of the Jewish state. Schools closed at midday and parents brought their children to the demonstration.
Rallies were also held in other cities across the West Bank and smaller protests were held in Gaza, which has been under control of the Hamas terror group since it ousted Palestinian Fatah forces in the territory in 2007. About a thousand marched to the UN headquarters in Gaza City.
“We shall return. We will never give up or compromise over our land,” chanted the marchers, members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions.
Gaza terrorists fired a rocket into southern Israel that exploded in an open field causing no injuries, the Israeli military said.
The Israeli military said Palestinian protesters across the West Bank threw rocks at soldiers who responded with tear gas. Palestinians hurled a fire bomb at a military vehicle near Hebron, causing it to overturn, injuring four soldiers.
In east Jerusalem, Israeli police used water cannon and officers on horseback to disperse an “illegal march,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Fourteen protesters were arrested, as was a Palestinian suspected of attacking a Jewish man as he walked near the Old City, he said.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority set up a stage near Manara Square in the center of the city, where artists performed traditional dances and songs.
Manwal Awad, 38, brought her 11-year-old twins to the Ramallah protest. “Every year, I bring them with me to inherit the story of our nakba, and to keep the dream of return,” she said.
Demonstrators also protested outside Ofer Prison, where many Palestinian security prisoners are held. The site is a common spot for mass rallies.
Several people were injured, including medics, after the IDF fired tear gas and rubber bullets during confrontations with protesters, according to reports on social media sites.
Israeli activist Leehee Rothschild tweeted that the IDF used live fire, and that one man was being treated after being shot in his leg. There was no IDF confirmation.
Dozens of Palestinians also threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces in Bitunia and Qalandiya, north of Jerusalem. The IDF retaliated by using riot dispersal techniques and no one was injured, Israel Radio reported.
Demonstrators were also said to have been arrested in Jerusalem during Nakba Day rallies.
A Palestinian activist tweeted that demonstrators tried blocking the road leading to Beit Ummar, located just north of Hebron in the West Bank, and that security forces fired stun grenades at the crowd.
The IDF and Israel Police had upped their alert level of readiness for Nakba Day, which fell the same day as the Jewish holiday of Shavuot this year, and which is memorialized internationally on May 15, one day after Israel’s Independence Day in 1948, according to the Gregorian calendar.
Security forces were deployed across the country and in the West Bank.
The IDF was also braced for demonstrations in Palestinian villages, and instructed forces to increase their patrols on the main roads in the territories, especially those near settlements.
In Jerusalem, Israel Police officers were joined by Border Police guards in an effort to boost general security.
In honor of Nakba Day, Palestinian TV aired remarks by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who said that “the Palestinian people will not agree to any plan that harms the right of the Palestinian people to establish a free, sovereign state along the 1967 borders.”
Two years ago, Israel witnessed an unprecedented number of disturbances across the country and on its borders with Syria and Lebanon. Some 15 people were killed in clashes when protesters, mainly from Palestinian refugee camps in these countries, organized mass marches and tried to storm the borders. In the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights village of Majdal Shams, several dozen Syrian protesters managed to reach the village before being sent back by security forces. One Syrian man even made it all the way to Jaffa before turning himself in to police.
In Tel Aviv that same year, one man was killed and over a dozen injured when an Arab driver from the village of Kfar Kassem went on a rampage of about two kilometers, ramming his truck into vehicles in his path, in what police called a terror attack. The man was tried, convicted, and sent to life imprisonment.