[News] Palestine - Refugees March to Return
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 13 11:13:24 EDT 2011
Refugees march to return
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 Israels 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 governments 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 dont 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 wont 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, Sundays
demonstration aims to show that Palestinian
refugees have not given up on their inalienable right to return home.
Given their history, its 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
him on twitter
for live coverage of Sundays march in Lebanon.
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