Some 10,000 people, most of them Arab teens and young adults, held a parade and a rally on Tuesday to mark the Nakba – “the catastrophe” – as many Arabs refer to Israel’s founding in 1948. The event was held on the lands of the uprooted village of Hubeiza, south of Haifa.
The march was attended by most of the Arab MKs and the heads of political parties and movements active in the Arab sector. Participants carried Palestinian flags and placards with the names of the Arab villages destroyed during the War of Independence.
Syrian flags were also raised, as occurred during the Land Day events on March 30. This, however, was done against the wishes of the rally’s organizers, the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Israel. This issue is a source of dispute among the Arab political parties, and drew protest from the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which did not participate in the march.
In the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps elsewhere, the Nakba is marked on May 15, the civil anniversary of the State of Israel’s founding.
But the march and rally sponsored by the displaced persons group, which is the roof body for the displaced who are Israeli citizens, has been taking place for the past 16 years on Independence Day - the day most of the displaced and their families visit the remains of the villages abandoned or destroyed in 1948. These marches were launched after the signing of the Oslo Accords, which ignored the plight of the displaced who are Israeli citizens.
Ahmed Sheikh Mohammed, the chairman of the association, said in an address to the rally that the right of return is a holy right for the displaced and the refugees, and no Palestinian or Arab official has the right to concede that right.
“Every year since 1996 we have organized this rally and this march, and every year there are more participants, particularly from the younger generation,” he said. “We call on the young people to join this justified struggle for the right of return, and the very large, even surprisingly large presence of young people here proves that in contrast to the expectations of Israeli leaders throughout the generations, the displaced, their children and their grandchildren will not forget and won’t give up the right of return.”
Ahmed Pahmawi is the son of a family uprooted from the village of Umm Azinat, which had been located on the southern Carmel ridge, not far from Daliat al-Carmel, where he now lives.
“Whoever thinks that this issue will fade with time is greatly mistaken,” Pahmawi said. “There won’t be justice or peace until every refugee has his right to return recognized in principle.”
Balad chairman MK Jamal Zahalka said that the Israeli government is responsible for the continuation of this tragedy and bloodshed.
“It stubbornly refuses a historic compromise and a just peace,” Zahalka said. “It even rejected the Arab Peace Initiative in which the Palestinians gave the Arab world all the possible and impossible concessions — and still [Israel] refused to accept it or even discuss it.”
Representatives of left-wing and social-justice groups, as well as some independent activists, also attended the rally. Dr. Dalit Simchai, a sociology lecturer at Tel Hai College, said she has attended the event for several years, out of identification with the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and Palestinians in general who suffered the trauma of the Nakba. She said there was no point talking about peace and justice until the memory of the Nakba and its ramifications are part of the Israeli consciousness.
“There’s no doubt that most of Israeli society sees me and most of the other Israeli activists who came to the rally as something exceptional,” Simchai said. “But I believe that in the end, this issue will penetrate the Israeli consciousness, even though the Israeli educational system tries to erase the issue, which is a distortion of history.”
MK Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, meanwhile, slammed the Nakba Day events as "proof" that any future agreement with Palestinians must include that sector as well.
“The hate parade of Israel-haters, the adherents and successors of the Mufti of Jerusalem, and who gathered today in Wadi Ara to mourn the establishment of the State of Israel, offers still more proof that any arrangement with the Palestinians must include Israeli Arabs as well," said Lieberman, Israel's former foreign minister.