In the wake of the Arab revolutions and in a new atmosphere of optimism and hope in the Middle East, Nakba day 2011 saw an unprecedented amount of activity internationally by Palestinians and solidarity activists. Alongside the usual annual gatherings commemorating the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, the right of return movement witnessed significant actions taken by Palestinian, Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese activists, determined to claim the right of return for refugees to their places of origin inside historic Palestine and the occupied Golan Heights; a right enshrined in international law, universal principles of justice and UN resolutions 194 (1948) and 237 (1967).
Palestinians residing throughout historic Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon courageously marched towards their respective borders with Israel in a show of defiance, indicative of their steadfastness and resolve to achieve the implementation of their right to return to the homes and villages from which their families were forcibly displaced. Israel's aggressive response resulted in fatalities and hundreds of injuries among emotional scenes on the Syrian border as refugees entered their homeland for the first time. These demonstrators were joined by many thousands more in cities around the world, from Istanbul to Sydney, New York to London.
A joint statement by a number of Palestinian civil society organizations on the occasion of 63 years of the Palestinian Nakba can be found here: http://www.badil.org/en/press-releases/138-2011/3069-press-eng-15
The statement from UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to the OPT, Professor Richard Falk can be read here: http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2011/05/16/observing-the-63rd-nakba/
Marches of Return
Although not the first time that such ideas have been suggested or attempted, the marches of return on May the 15th represent the most successful attempts in recent times by Palestinian refugees to take their fate into their own hands and return to the homes. The marches, brought together through local organizations and activists and facilitated by social media, achieved a turn out of many thousands in an action that has been described as "making public the private heart of every Palestinian citizen, who has lived each day since 1948 in the emergency crisis of a catastrophe”.
Videos show the moment when refugees ignored warnings of the presence of land-mines and crossed the border separating Syria from the occupied Golan heights, tore through the barbed wire fencing and embraced villagers from Majdal Al Shams in the occupied Golan Heights waiting on the other side. Israeli forces arrived shortly after and opened fire on returning refugees, killing four and injuring many others. One returning Palestinian, Hassan Hijazi, managed to hitchhike and bus his way to his hometown of Jaffa where he reportedly walked around the town speaking to locals before being interviewed by Israeli Channel 10 TV and then being arrested by Israeli police.
On the Lebanese border 50,000 Palestinians defied Lebanese army checkpoints and gathered near the border with Israel to rally for the right of return. After the speakers began to address the crowd, thousands descended from the hill and headed towards the border fence upon which Israeli forces opened fire, reportedly killing 10 and injuring more than 100.
In Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces forbade a planned march by Egyptian activists towards Gaza, with only 80 able to make it to the protest at Rafah. Instead, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo, with 363 reported injuries and 180 arrests being made by Egyptian authorities.
Over the border in occupied and besieged Gaza, thousands of Palestinians marching towards the Erez crossing were fired upon by Israeli tanks and soldiers, with one reported killed and 82 injured. In Jordan thousands of marchers were prevented from crossing the Allenby Bridge by Jordanian authorities who fired teargas and beat protesters, with 25 injuries reported.
In the occupied West Bank, over 1,000 protesters broke off from the main Nakba commemoration event in Ramallah and attempted to enter Jerusalem through Qalandia checkpoint before Israeli forces fired teargas and rubber bullets injuring over 100 protesters, 20 of whom were transferred to hospital. Four others were arrested by undercover Israeli police, a picture purporting to show one appeared in the New York Times. In Hebron, Palestinians attempted to enter the area of the city from which they have been displaced by the Israeli army and settlers but were prevented from doing so by Palestinian security.
In the Palestinian town of Al Walaja, Palestinian refugees attempting to return to the part of the town depopulated in 1948 were forcibly dispersed by Israeli soldiers with eight Palestinian and international demonstrators arrested. In the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, Palestinian and international protesters were arrested, beaten and injured. Clashes also broke out throughout Jerusalem to commemorate the Nakba and the killing of a Palestinian youth in Silwan on May the 14th.
A march of return was organized by Palestinians citizens of Israel, one-fourth of whom are internally displaced, defined as 'present absentees' and denied their right to return to their homes. Participants in the March of Return, now in its 14th year, walked between the Palestinian villages of al-Damun and al-Ruways both of which were depopulated and destroyed during the 1948 Nakba. A few dozen protesters near the Lebanese border in the town of Avivm were dispersed by Israeli police with video footage showing an officer striking an attorney from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel in the face. Other marches took place on May the 14th, with over 2,000 demonstrators gathering in Jaffa. The marches took place in defiance of recent Israeli government attempts to prevent Nakba commemoration by stopping government funding to organizations which participate in Nakba commemoration events.
The links provided and cited in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of BADIL Resource Center and are intended as a summary of existing media on the issue.