More than 20,000 people participated in a procession Thursday marking the Nakba, or "catastrophe," when more than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1947-49 Israeli War of Independence.
The Association for the Protection of the Rights of the Displaced organized the event for its 21 consecutive year alongside Israel's Independence Day celebrations. Dubbed the "Procession of Return," the event takes place each year on the lands of a different village that was uprooted in 1948. This year, it took place in the area of Atlit, just south of Haifa in northern Israel.
In recent years, the procession has become a large demonstration, with people participating from the entire political spectrum of Israeli Arab society. Jewish Israelis who associate themselves with the liberal-democratic camp also participated. Ultra-Orthodox Jews were seen marching in the procession as well.
Protesters held up Palestinian flags and signs bearing the names of over 530 villages they say were uprooted in 1948. This year, organizers were pleased with the increased number of young people participating in the event, saying that it sends the message that younger generations will not forget the Nakba and the right of return.
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A member of the association organizing the procession, Sliman Fahamawi, said in a speech on behalf of the displaced that "For generations they tried to deny the Nakba and the right of return," but that "the many thousands gathered here say the right of return is a holy right which none can relinquish."
Attending the rally, the chairman of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Mohammad Baracha, said: "On this day they try to distort history, but we are here to say we have not forgotten. The Nakba is a hard, painful memory for every Palestinian, especially those who were uprooted from their homes."
Baracha also addressed violence within Palestinian society, noting the community must strive for progress and improvement. "I call upon the entire Arab public everywhere – denounce violence and denounce those dealing in violence and arms," he said.
Eitan Rubinstein, founder of the Israeli NGO Zochrot, also spoke during the procession. "Those who have transgressed ask for forgiveness, after the felony has passed, is done, and in our case is at its peak with no end on the horizon. It takes effort to see beyond the horizon and to imagine, perhaps daydream, to see a different future in which justice reigns over the land."