'The only solution to the Nakba is return'

'The only solution to the Nakba is return'
In-depth: The bloody legacy of Israel's creation continues to be felt by refugee families, writes Jaclynn Ashly.
6 min read
23 April, 2018
This year's march marks the 70th year since the Nakba [Jaclynn Ashly]
Ahmad, 29, was one of the few Palestinian refugees from the occupied West Bank able to attend the annual "March of Return" on Thursday in Haifa in northern Israel. 

"All the policies Israel has implemented on Palestinians inside Israel to make them forget since 1948 has clearly failed," he told The New Arab.

The rally, held annually for 21 consecutive years, comprises a march and subsequent speech, poetry and music events at the site of a Palestinian village or town that was destroyed by Zionist militias during Israel's establishment.

Each year, the march is held around the time of Israel's Independence Day, which is marked on both the Hebrew calendar (the fifth day of Iyar, which corresponds with April 19) and the Gregorian (May 14). Some 20,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel took part, along with a few Palestinians from the occupied West Bank, "internationals" (foreign Palestinian solidarity volunteer activists) and Israelis.

This year's march marked the 70th year since the Nakba, or "catastrophe", when Israel was established upon the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians, who are now scattered across refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, besieged Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and beyond.

About 40,000 Palestinians also became internally displaced inside what became Israel.

Some 600 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed during Israel's creation. Palestinian refugees and their descendants - also classed as refugees under international law - now number some five million, according to the UN.

Palestinians officially commemorate Nakba day on May 15, the ay after Israel's official founding in the Gregorian calendar.

Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel and the diaspora have been organizing six weeks protests leading up to Nakba day.

In the besieged Gaza Strip, some 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli snipers while participating in the "Great March of Return", demanding their right to return to their lands from which they were expelled.

'Atlit is just one part'

Thursday's march took place at the site of the destroyed Palestinian village of Atlit. Umar al-Ghubari, a member of the Israeli organisation Zochrot, told The New Arab that Atlit had been a small coastal village, consisting of some 170 Palestinians who mainly practiced agriculture.

Palestinians young and old attended the event on the site of the village of Atlit, now destroyed, near Haifa [Jaclynn Ashly]

All of the residents were expelled to refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria.

The land of the village is now owned by the Israeli local municipality, and is used by Israelis from Nir Etzion, the same early Jewish settlement that participated in the village's destruction.

According to al-Ghurabi, it was the first time the march was held at a destroyed coastal village.

"It's significant that it's taking place at one of the villages on the beach," al-Ghurabi said. "One of the conceptions among Israelis and some Palestinians is that there were no Palestinians living near the sea."

However, according to al-Ghurabi, there were in fact many Palestinian villages near the shore, all but one of which was destroyed by Zionist militias during Israel's establishment.

The only Palestinians who were not expelled from the coastal areas were those in Jisr al-Zarqa, also in the Haifa district.

"The story of Alit is not an exceptional one," al-Ghurabi told The New Arab. "It's just one part of the whole story of the Palestinian Nakba."

'Continue the memory of the Nakba'

Mohammad Kaial, one of the founders of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (ADRID) which organises the march, said the march was meant to "stress our will and our wish to return to our towns and villages from which we were expelled during Israel's creation".

The march is also used to emphasise the right of return under UN Security Council Resoution 194, and to demand that Israel abides by international law, Kaial said.

Kaial noted that the march also highlighted the treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have faced discriminatory policies for years inside Israel.

After being consumed by the Israeli state 70 years ago, many displaced Palestinians who remained in what became Israel were considered "present absentees" and were barred from returning to the villages and towns they fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The event comprised a march, as well as cultural highlights included poetry and music [Jaclynn Ashly]

Like other Palestinians who became refugees, their property was seized by the nascent Israeli state.

Following Israel's takeover of the territory, the some 120,000 Palestinians who remained inside Israel at the time were governed by Israeli martial law until 1966. They were forced to apply for Israeli permits in order to leave their towns or villages.

A year later, following the 1967 war, these same policies were applied to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who have continued to live under a more than decade-long military occupation.

Palestinian citizens of Israel now make up some 20 percent of the Israeli population. The Palestinian rights group Adalah has documented at least 65 Israeli laws that "directly or indirectly" discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Palestinians and rights groups have long pointed out that Israel's policies on Palestinians inside Israel, along with those in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, are aimed at limiting Palestinian movement and development, while continuing to expel them from their lands in order to make room for Jewish settlement.

'The only solution to the Nakba is return'

For Ahmad, attending the March of Return was an act of defiance. A resident of a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, Ahmad said he refuses to apply for Israeli permits that would allow him to cross Israeli checkpoints into Jerusalem and Israel.

"I believe that if I applied for a permit I would be recognising the Israeli system," he said.

"I decided to sneak in, along with my friends. We climbed mountains and jumped over fences. It was a big risk to be here today."

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes, some by force and some by fear of violence, during the creation of Israel [Jaclynn Ashly]

Ahmad's family was expelled from the Jerusalem-area village of Beit Itab.

"It's a big day for me," Ahmad told The New Arab. "To be here is a source of happiness. To be all together here in spite of Israeli policies and separations that have tried to prevent us from being here. But we are still here."

Israel announced before the march that it was implementing a four-day closure on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip before and during Israel's Independence Day, preventing Palestinians even with Israeli permits from attending the event.

Ahmad believes Palestinians throughout the territories and in the diaspora need a "comprehensive vision" of return.

"I believe that now is the time to put return into practice. It's not enough anymore to talk about return as a right or a dream," he said.

"Palestinians everywhere have their own issues depending on where they are living. But our collective issue that will continue to connect all [Palestinians] is the right to return."

He continued: "Return is not about returning to private property. Return is dignity, freedom, self-determination."

"The only solution to the Nakba is return."

Jaclynn Ashly is a multimedia journalist based in the occupied West Bank.