Thousands of Israeli Arabs March to Commemorate 'Catastrophe' of Israel's Independence

March to remember the Nakba – what the Palestinians call their uprooting during the 1948 conflict when Israel declared independence – takes place amid a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners

Israeli Arabs waving Palestinian flags during the annual march to commemorate the Nakba, May 2, 2017.
Ammar Awad / Reuters

Thousands of Israeli Arabs marched in northern Israel on Tuesday, commemorating 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.

This year’s march took place near Kibbutz Kabri in the Western Galilee. In each of the 20 years it has taken place, the march, led by an association for protecting the rights of displaced Palestinians, starts in a different Arab village that no longer exists.

This year’s event took place in the shadow of the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israel, who are protesting practices such as detention without trial and solitary confinement. Members of their families, Israeli citizens, were prominent participants in this year’s event.

The march also followed a dispute with the police over the timing and location. The police protested the scheduling the same day as Israeli Independence Day saying they could not secure two enormous events on the same day.

They had also received complaints that the Nakba march would pass a memorial to Israeli war dead from the Yechiam convoy, which delivered supplies to a beleaguered kibbutz during the war. In the end, a compromise kept the march on Independence Day but changed its path.

The march is not affiliated with any political party or movement and in recent years has become the biggest event in Israeli Arab society in terms of the number of participants.

Wakim Wakim, chairman of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced, said the message to the Israeli government was “your Independence Day is our Nakba Day, and this independence led to the destruction of 532 Palestinian villages.”

“They gambled on the old dying and the young forgetting,” Wakim said. “But the young are leading the march today and making a new, clear statement that the right of return is a fundamental right for the displaced and refugee Palestinians.”

Mohammed Baraka, chairman of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and a son of a family uprooted from the village of Zippori, called on Hamas and Fatah to act in the spirit of Palestinian national unity. He said they should not delegitimize each other, the parties’ leaders or the Follow-Up Committee.