Thousands of Palestinians gathered in northern Israel on Tuesday for Israel’s Independence Day to demand the right of return for all refugees displaced during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
A group of over 10,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel congregated in the Lavie Forest near Tiberius, where a park planted by the Jewish National Fund sits atop the ruins of what was once the village of Lubya.
Home to over 2,500 Palestinians in 1948, the village of Lubya was captured and destroyed by Jewish forces and its residents were forcibly exiled during the war that led to Israel’s creation.
"There will be no peace, no stability, and no reconciliation without the refugees' right of return," Mohammad Barakei, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament — the Knesset — told AFP.
The procession, entitled “The March of Return,” has taken place in parallel with Israel’s Independence Day annually since 1998. Each year, while Israel’s Jewish majority celebrates their country’s independence, Israel’s Palestinian minority, roughly one fifth of the population, commemorates the Nakba or “catastrophe” — the Arabic word used to refer to the forced exile of over 700,000 Palestinians during the creation of Israel.
Families spanning three generations marched through the ruins of Lubya on Tuesday, singing national Palestinian songs and waving Palestinian flags. A list detailing each one of the 530 Palestinian villages displaced 66 years ago was read aloud before the group observed a minute’s silence in their memory. The original Palestinian national anthem, “Mawtini”— “My Homeland” — was sung afterwards.
Since its inception 17 years ago, the March of Return has visited the site of a different destroyed village each year. The march, organized by several Israeli Arab groups demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948, was organized under the slogan: “Your ‘independence’ day is our ‘Nakba’” — a refrain aimed directly at their Jewish counterparts.
Hanin Zoabi, another Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset, gave a comment to AFP on Israel’s Independence Day, saying "it is certainly strange that I don't celebrate Independence Day, the historical event that saw my people expelled. I need the Nakba memorial day to battle Israeli repression."
This year’s march took place alongside a large number of Jewish families who assembled in a nearby area of the forest to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. A deployment of a large number Israeli police kept confrontations between the two groups to a minimum.
"A demonstration organized by Israeli Arab associations gathered about 10,000 people and two youths were arrested for violence against the police," Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri told Yedioth Ahronot, one of Israel’s leading daily newspapers.
Israeli academic and prominent social activist Ilan Pappe was also in attendance in solidarity.
“I think it’s important that the progressive Jewish voice will be represented in what is the heart of the issue in Palestine — the refugee problem — and will support the Palestinian internal refugees, which are off the radar, and whose right to return should be the first right to be respected if we ever want reconciliation,” Pappe told VICE News. “I came to salute them, support them, and call on other Jews to join me in this solidarity.”
About a quarter of the approximately 1.4 million Palestinians living in Israel live as internal refugees in one of the 100 Arab-Israeli communities that remained standing after the creation of Israel in 1948. Israeli authorities, in their attempts to maintain a Jewish state, have notoriously treated Palestinian citizens of Israel as a growing demographic threat.
"Palestinian citizens of Israel represent the essence of the conflict,” Nadim Nashif, founder of Baladna, an Arab youth organization in Haifa, told VICE News. “Israel sits on 78 percent of historic Palestine — an area with over 400 destroyed Palestinian villages, and an area to which most of the refugees want to return."
Israeli authorities have historically been against the idea of any type of return for Palestinian refugees. As recently as January, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he would “not support any peace deal that will allow the return of even one Palestinian refugee to Israel."
Jerusalem-based youth activist Farah Bayadsi told VICE News that each time Palestinians in Israel are forced to endure another Independence Day, “it adds to our determination to never give up. Their celebrations of our loss doesn’t mean anything to us… it just makes us more resolute.
“There are people here today who witnessed the Nakba in 1948,” she said. “They haven’t given up on the right of return and neither will any other future generation.”
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