[News] Palestinians assert right to return on Israeli "Independence Day"

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 2 12:11:59 EDT 2012

Palestinians assert right to return on Israeli "Independence Day"

Asa Winstanley

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. 
“It’s 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. I’ve 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 you’re fighting for

Ma’ath 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: 
“It’s always important to go to these ethnically 
cleansed towns. When you’re here you just know what you’re 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 
it’s 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.”
Racist legislation

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. “It’s 
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 day’s 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. “It’s not: it’s a stolen 
land, a stolen country. We are here actually to 
assert our right to return to our villages and 
homes. Without this there won’t be justice for Palestinians.”
Strong spirit

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. I’m very proud 
actually, because today you don’t 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] it’s growing and growing.

“It’s 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, it’s not going to work.”

Asa Winstanley is a journalist based in London 
who is currently reporting from Palestine.

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