[News] Palestine - Refugees March to Return

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 13 11:13:24 EDT 2011

Refugees march to return

<http://electronicintifada.net/people/matthew-cassel>Matthew Cassel
13 May 2011

Long before Muhammad Bouazizi there was Muhammad 
al-Dura. The horrific footage of the 12-year-old 
Palestinian boy gunned down by Israeli soldiers 
while seeking refuge alongside his father in 
September 2000 was one of the sparks that made 
protests spread across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The second intifada, like the first intifada 
(1987-1993) before it, was a popular grassroots 
uprising against Israeli occupation. It was these 
intifadas that have made the Arabic word for 
uprising largely synonymous with the Palestinian 
liberation struggle ­ and made the word 
universally understood all over the world.

Since the wave of recent Arab uprisings began in 
Tunisia late last year after the self-immolation 
by Bouazizi, many have asked when the 
Palestinians will follow suit and lead a revolt of their own.

In the decade after the second intifada began, 
Palestinians have faced violent Israeli 
repression ­ thousands were killed and injured, 
and tens of thousands have been detained and 
imprisoned. Entire cities, villages and refugee 
camps have been subject to invasion and curfew, 
often for weeks at a time. And in recent years, 
the Palestinian Authority has become a repressive 
force of its own, forcefully quelling protests in 
the occupied territories and working in open 
coordination with the Israeli army.

Despite this, the spirit of the Palestinian 
liberation movement has continued unabated. 
Protests by Palestinians inside the occupied 
territories, Israel and the diaspora are 
commonplace, particularly the ongoing weekly 
protests in West Bank villages like Bilin and 
Nilin that have gone on for years.

Solidarity with Palestine in the Arab world has 
always existed. Not only did Arabs protest in 
support of Palestinians early in the intifada, 
but more recently, during Israel’s three-week 
assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09, 
hundreds of thousands protested across the Arab 
world, from Yemen to Morocco, against the attack 
that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, the overwhelming majority civilians.

However, Arab despots, many of whom have become 
the target of popular protests calling for their 
ouster, have often either suppressed or co-opted 
protests in solidarity with Palestine. During the 
various uprisings and protests in the Arab world, 
other than the flag of the respective nations 
being waved, the Palestinian flag has also been 
present in almost every country, a symbol of just 
how important Palestine and the intifada are in the greater Arab world.

Now, inspired by the recent Arab revolts, 
Palestinians are planning for their own uprising 
in a day activists are calling the “third 
intifada.” What initially started as a call for a 
protest on Facebook has transformed into a 
grassroots movement led by Palestinians around the world.

On Sunday, 15 May, Palestinian activists, 
political factions and non-governmental 
organizations, are participating in various 
coordinated actions to protest Israeli occupation 
and call for the right of return for some six 
million Palestinian refugees. The significance of 
this date is that it is Nakba day ­ the day 
Palestinians annually commemorate their ethnic 
cleansing from Palestine as British forces 
departed in 1948 and Zionist forces took over 
much of the country to establish Israel.

Protests are planned in Ramallah, Gaza City, 
Amman, Damascus, Cairo and other cities. Egyptian 
activists are also planning to go to Gaza and 
challenge their government’s complicity with 
Israel in the siege of the territory. Here in 
Lebanon, organizers are calling for an 
unprecedented “Right of Return” march to the 
border that they were forced to cross 63 years ago this week.

Unlike Tunisians, Egyptians and other peoples in 
revolt, Palestinian refugees don’t have the 
luxury of living under only one oppressor. In 
Lebanon, for example, hundreds of thousands of 
refugees live with few civil rights; many are 
restricted to refugee camps enclosed by the Lebanese army.

In recent years, activists have waged a campaign 
demanding civil rights in Lebanon in order to 
return home to Palestine. In the Nahr al-Bared 
refugee camp, after it was destroyed in 2007, 
Palestinians had to first demand a return to the 
camp where they had sought refuge six decades ago 
before demanding a return home to Palestine. 
Conditions in Syria and Jordan also restrict 
refugees’ freedoms and deny them many political 
rights. While most Palestinian refugees declare 
only one goal ­ to return to Palestine ­ they 
also admit that getting there is a long and circuitous path.

Sharif Bibi, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon and 
one of the organizers of the 15 May Right of 
Return March, told me, “Palestinians have always 
dreamed of an Arab revolt since they believe that 
Palestine won’t be liberated until the Arab world 
is liberated. The fall of Mubarak in Egypt gave 
hope to people and made the idea that ‘we can do it’ into something real.”

Bibi says there are already more than 500 buses 
planned to transport an estimated 35,000 persons 
­ mostly Palestinian refugees ­ from across 
Lebanon to the village of Maroun al-Ras on the 
boundary with Israel. Very few mainstream 
Lebanese political groups are endorsing the 
march, except for Hizballah, the Shia Islamic 
resistance movement celebrated for liberating 
southern Lebanon from 22 years of Israeli occupation in 2000.

It was soon after that liberation that hundreds 
of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon traveled to 
the boundary. Many greeted family members whom 
they had been separated from for decades or never 
met before, on the other side of the fence in 
Israel. Also around this time is when a 
now-famous photograph of the late Palestinian 
scholar Edward Said throwing a stone across the border emerged.

According to Bibi, the march this weekend will 
have a different purpose. Located hundreds of 
meters away from the border fence, Sunday’s 
demonstration aims to show that Palestinian 
refugees have not given up on their inalienable right to return home.

Given their history, it’s easy for one to assume 
that Palestinians will play a central role in any 
larger uprising in the Arab world. After this 
weekend, that role should be clear.

Matthew Cassel, a former editor of The Electronic 
Intifada, is a journalist and photographer based 
in the Middle East. His website is 
<http://www.justimage.org>justimage.org. Follow 
him on twitter 
for live coverage of Sunday’s march in Lebanon.

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