[News] Palestinians assert right to return on Israeli "Independence Day"
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 2 12:11:59 EDT 2012
Palestinians assert right to return on Israeli "Independence Day"
1 May 2012
Palestinians carry signs reading the names of
villages destroyed during the 1948 Nakba in the
village of Abu Snan during the annual March of Return, 26 April.
(Ahmad Gharabali / AFP Photo)
Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel
gathered in the western Galilee for the annual
March of Return last week, on 26 April.
Timed to coincide with the annual Israeli
Independence Day celebrations, each year for
the past 15 years participants have marched to
the lands of different villages destroyed during
the Nakba the 1947-48 catastrophe during which
Zionist militias evicted approximately 750,000
Palestinians from what then became Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinian villages were blown up with dynamite and demolished.
This year, the march ended on land belonging to
Kweikat, a village that was ethnically cleansed
by Israeli forces in July 1948. Out of sight was
the nearby Israeli settlement of Beit HaEmek,
built on the ruins of Kweikat. The march passed
within eyeshot of other nearby Israeli
settlements built on the ruins of Amqa, whose
people were also driven out in July 1948. The two
villages are near to Akka (Acre), and were
situated in the Akka region of Palestine
according to the boundary demarcations of the
British Mandate (which ruled Palestine before 1948).
Siwar Aslih, a psychologist who works in Haifa,
makes a point of coming to the event every year.
Its a very unique march, she said. Every year
they try to go to a new village, to add new
things. I asked what her personal reason was for
making the effort each year. For the living
memory of every Palestinian who died in the Nakba, she replied.
War planes overhead
On the journey north from Jerusalem, I saw many
Israelis picnicking and enjoying barbecues in
parks, beaches and public squares. Israeli flags
were draped all over cars, homes and public
spaces. It was their Independence Day. As we
stopped for breakfast on a Haifa beach, warplanes
flew overhead in an ostentatious display of military prowess.
Although the Zionist movement declared Israel as
a state on top of Palestine on 14 May 1948, the
day is celebrated in Israel according to the
Jewish religious calendar, and so falls on
different days of the Gregorian calendar each
year. The March of Return is purposely timed to
fall on the same day as Independence Day, to make a very definite point.
We have a point here that the independence of
this country is the same as the Nakba for our
people, said Aslih. I think this memory should be relived every year.
The march proceeded from a small nearby town
called Abu Snan. Palestinians from all over the
parts of historic Palestine now called Israel, as
well as Jerusalem, had arrived in cars and
coaches to participate. Palestinians from the
West Bank, Gaza and in exile were not permitted to enter.
A handful of anti-Zionist Jews joined in, and
activists from Zochrot (Remembering in Hebrew,
the organization set up to educate Israelis about
the Nakba) were in attendance.
Particularly striking was the wide range of ages
of those present. Enthusiastic teenagers and
youth led energetic chants against Israel,
calling for the full return of Palestinian
refugees, naming all the towns and villages of
pre-1948 Palestine that the refugees would return
to, and singing freedom songs. Mothers and
fathers brought their young children along to
make a day of it, perhaps wanting to avoid the
festival of Israeli flags flooding the country that day.
The old people from the village are also here,
Aslih said. They are speaking about the
traumatic experience of the Nakba, which is I
think a brilliant idea. Ive seen grandfathers
with their grandsons, [and] many kids this also makes it special.
At the rally, there were speeches, songs, food,
drink and stalls. Vendors sold books and maps of
Palestine, and there was a scale model portraying
what Kweikat looked like before its destruction.
There was also a moment of silence for the
martyrs and singing of the Palestinian anthem Mawtani (My country).
Knowing what youre fighting for
Maath Musleh is a Palestinian student from
Jerusalem. He regularly travels across the West
Bank to support and take part in different
demonstrations against the occupation when he
can. The March of Return is special to him too:
Its always important to go to these ethnically
cleansed towns. When youre here you just know what youre fighting for.
In Ramallah they celebrate: the PA [Palestinian
Authority] have brainwashed everyone and there is
no commemoration of the Nakba, there are
celebrations just to say we did something in the
middle of al-Manara [square]. When you see a
crowd this big you just get optimistic, you get the hope, he explained.
Musleh is critical of the PA and its now
seemingly-dormant plan to declare a state in part of the West Bank.
Our struggle is not to get them to recognize a
state, or three settlements that are illegal
its not complicated. There are Palestinian
refugees who should return back home, or get the
right to return back home. After that, everyone
lives in this land and has equal rights. When you
hear all these Palestinians chanting for the
right of return, you know that they know what the fight is about.
He was not the only one skeptical of the PA.
Palestinian youth that day included many chants
condemning the policies of the PA, pressuring
them not to sell out the refugees in negotiations
with Israel. Oh Abbas, oh Qureia: the Right of
Return is not for sale was one such popular
chant, addressing PA President Mahmoud Abbas and negotiator Ahmed Qureia.
Budour Hassan is a Palestinian activist from
Nazareth and a law student at the Hebrew
university in Jerusalem. My favorite thing about
protests in Palestine 48, she mused on Twitter
after the demonstration, referring to the area of
historic Palestine now called Israel, is that we
can chant against the PA, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas without being silenced.
A big difference with demonstrations in the West
Bank and Gaza was the lack of violent suppression
by the Israeli military or police. There was no
tear gas, no rubber-coated steel bullets and
certainly no live rounds. There were no police in
sight, although I heard rumors they were on
standby at a gas station on the main road several hundred meters away.
Despite an array of laws that discriminate
against them as non-Jews, Palestinians in Israel
are nominal citizens. The military regime against
them ended in 1966, and they do have the right to
vote in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
Despite that, Israel has not hesitated to use
violence against its own Palestinians.
On 30 March 1976, the first Land Day was
violently suppressed by Israeli forces, and six
Palestinians were killed after protests and a
general strike against land confiscations in the
Galilee. In October 2000, 13 Palestinians in
Israel were killed by Israeli forces after they
came out in support of the unarmed popular
uprising that marked the start of the second intifada.
Thankfully, last Thursday was not like that.
Israel is not interested in a violent
confrontation with us at this time, Hassan told
me after the march. If they did, people in 48
[Palestinians in present-day Israel] would rise up against them.
In yet another example of the racist Israeli
legislation passed in recent years, in March 2011
the Knesset passed an amendment known as the
Nakba law. It made it possible to fine any
public body that benefits from government funding
(e.g. schools, universities, local authorities)
if it holds events that commemorate Independence
Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning.
The ambiguous wording of this law raises
concerns that fines will be imposed for holding
events in which the Nakba is mentioned in any
way, a statement from Adalah, the Legal Center
for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said. In May
2011 Adalah filed a petition against the law, but
the Israeli high court ruled in January of this
year that the law could stand (Israeli high
court ignored the chilling effect already caused
by the Nakbah law, Adalah, 5 January 2012).
Abir Kopty, also from Nazareth, frequently takes
part in demonstrations all over occupied
Palestine. She has taken part in the March of
Return every year for the last ten years. Its
important as a Palestinian, especially during the
Independence Day of Israel, while Israelis are
celebrating, to tell them that your celebration
is actually on the ruins of my people, she said.
As we spoke, the days events were winding down,
and people were heading back to Abu Snan. Some
Israelis, rather slow on the uptake, had finally
caught onto what was taking place nearby, and
decided to stage a small counter-demonstration on
the main road several hundred meters away. We
spoke over the sound of a loud sound system they had brought.
I think they want to prove .. that this is
theirs, said Kopty. Its not: its a stolen
land, a stolen country. We are here actually to
assert our right to return to our villages and
homes. Without this there wont be justice for Palestinians.
I observed that throughout the day, there was a
very strong spirit of positive Palestinian
cultural nationalism. Kopty agreed: We want to
assert that we as Palestinians inside Israel are
part of the Palestinian people and we are part of
the struggle and the cause. Im very proud
actually, because today you dont see any party
flags in the demonstration, [only Palestinian flags] there is total unity.
What unites us as Palestinian people as a whole
everywhere, in exile, in home, in diaspora, in
67 [the West Bank and Gaza Strip], in 48, is
actually the right of return. What unites us as
Palestinians is actually the Nakba. Look how many
youth came to this march. Because I come every
year, [I can see that] its growing and growing.
Its passing from one generation to another,
without giving up our rights, Kopty added. This
is a message to the Israeli apartheid that no
matter what they do, no matter how much efforts
they put for 64 years to destroy our identity, to
demolish our narrative and our history, its not going to work.
Asa Winstanley is a journalist based in London
who is currently reporting from Palestine.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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