Israeli Police Refuse to Grant Permit for Annual Nakba March

For 18 years, the March of Return has taken place in parallel with Israel's Independence Day celebrations, but this year police say they don't have enough resources to secure the event.

Arab Israeli protesters march to commemorate Nakba Day, Rahat, Israel, May 12, 2016.
Arab Israeli protesters march to commemorate Nakba Day, Rahat, Israel, May 12, 2016. Ammar Awad/Reuters

The police are refusing to approve the annual March of Return that commemorates the Nakba (“catastrophe,” as Palestinians refer to the founding of the State of Israel), which was scheduled for early May.

For 18 years the march has been held in parallel with Israel’s Independence Day celebrations, but this year the police said they would not have enough resources to secure the event due to the holiday. The Association for the Defense of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Israel, which organizes the march, said their permit was denied because politicians were exerting pressure on the police.

>> What is Nakba Day? A brief history <<

The association holds the event annually on the grounds of one of the Arab villages that was destroyed in 1948. Last month the association approached the Nahariya police and asked for permission to hold the march on the lands of the village of Al-Kabri, adjacent to Kibbutz Kabri, a few kilometers east of the city. Association representatives and Nahariya police officers toured the planned route of the march two weeks ago and agreed on the police requirements, which made the refusal this week even more surprising.

“We’re sure there’s a political motive,” said attorney Wessam Areed, who submitted the request for the permit. “We will insist on our right to mark the event and will commit to all the conditions to assure the wellbeing and security of the marchers.”

Areed noted that the association had always meticulously adhered to all the requirements, and that various police station commanders had sent letters commending it for maintaining public order.

This week Adalah, The Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel, wrote to attorney Osnat Mandel, head of the High Court of Justice department in the state prosecution, asking that it order the police to approve the march. “The police decision is very strange and raises concerns that the refusal to approve the event is politically motivated,” wrote attorney Mohammed Bassam, who added that if the permit wasn’t issued, the group would petition the High Court. “The event isn’t meant to be secured by the police, but by ushers supplied by the organizers. Past experience shows that events to mark the Nakba organized by the aforementioned association went off very well.”

“The decision was made solely for professional and relevant considerations," said the Israel Police in response. "It’s unfortunate that the organizers decided to conduct the march exactly on the day of Independence Day, when there are hundreds of approved events throughout the country in which the Israel Police is investing all its resources to secure them and keep millions of people safe throughout the country. Securing a march expected to be attended by 25,000 citizens requires special police organization that will not be possible on that date.”