This Sunday, Palestinians marked the 56th anniversary of the end of the British Mandate in Palestine and the establishment of the State of Israel - the day of their Nakba (catastrophe). Processions, assemblies and demonstrations were held throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yasser Arafat delivered a gala speech in which he called on his people to persist in the struggle, and the Palestinian newspapers issued special supplements with pictures of 1948 refugees who still carry with them the keys of their homes in Jaffa, Lod and Haifa.
A small demonstration was also held by a few dozen protesters in East Jerusalem, near the American consulate on Nablus Road. One of the diplomatic commentators holding court in a coffee house in the nearby market told the story of an Arab with serious troubles, who was disgusted with life. He went to a fortune teller, who informed him that for the next five years, his situation would be even worse. And what about after that? asked the man. After that you'll get used to it, said the fortune teller. After 56 years, the Palestinians have also become used to living with the catastrophe, said the coffee house commentator.
Each year, the Palestinian Authority, PLO institutions and various refugee organizations organize commemoration assemblies for May 15.
This year, the Nakba assemblies were much better attended than in the past, with a commensurate increase in media coverage of the subject. Why? "Because the Nakba continues," explained Palestinian spokesmen who wrote and spoke about it. Lines such as, "It began in Jaffa - and continues in Rafah" widely appeared in the Palestinian press, and the newspapers ran photos of residents of Rafah and Gaza's Zeitoun neighborhood pulling their possessions out of the ruins of homes and carrying them on their backs, side by side with similar photographs from 1948.
Fifty-six years after their catastrophe, and three-and-a-half years into the intifada, it can be stated with certainty that in spite of the increasing suffering and distress, the Palestinians are revealing no discernible signs of fatigue or crisis. There may be rises and falls in the national mood as expressed in public opinion polls, but it is patently clear that all the means of collective punishment employed by Israel - siege, house demolitions, economic ruin - have not helped to reduce morale. All of the closures and cordons, roadblocks and searches, arrests and targeted assassinations have done little to curb Palestinian motivation to continue the terror attacks. Perhaps the opposite is the case: the public in Gaza and the West Bank is demanding more revenge, and the atmosphere of rage in the street, which constitutes an important infrastructure for continued terror, only grows more intense.
There is no escape from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There were estimates last year that approximately 50,000 people had left the West Bank since the start of the intifada. These were Palestinians with foreign citizenship, usually Jordanian, who had crossed over to Jordan or had left the country. That trend has ended, for the simple reason that residents of the West Bank and Gaza have nowhere to go. The borders are completed sealed off, and Jordan has imposed heavy restrictions to stop the entry of Palestinians into its territory.
Palestinian society has largely become a society of welfare cases begging for handouts across the globe. The Palestinian Authority pays salaries to 150,000 people or more, from contributions from abroad. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency supports tens of thousands of families. An international organization called Food For Work has initiated relief work projects, and distributes food packages. A Saudi Arabian emergency program supports some 12,000 Palestinian families through monthly stipends. Dozens more relief organizations operate similar programs.
Palestinian data indicate more than 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and there are reports that 17 percent of the children in Gaza suffer from malnutrition. In many locales, the government has collapsed, and gangs have power over day-to-day life. Nevertheless, even when their situation is so terrible, there is not even a hint of public demand to end the struggle against Israel.
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