Palestinians mark Nakba anniversary amid Israeli raids, arrests
Sirens wailed for 68 seconds in the West Bank to mark the passing of 68 years since what Palestinians call their "Nakba", or catastrophe, when more than 760,000 Palestinians, estimated today to number about 5.5 million with their descendants, were driven from their homes during the creation of the state of Israel.
Cars stopped and pedestrians stood still in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem during the commemoration.
Marchers used keys and other props to symbolise their demand to return to their occupied homeland.
In Gaza, thousands of Palestinians took part in a rally organised by various political factions to commemorate the event, waving the Palestinian flag and marching from the Unknown Soldier Square to the headquarters of the United Nations.
"Sixty-eight years have passed since the Nakba and our people have never forgotten their homeland, Palestine. We will return," Fatah member Zakariyya al-Agha said during the rally.
"Let the whole world know that our people will never accept an alternative to this homeland [...] no matter how far the distances or how high the occupier's walls are," al-Agha said.
In Tel Aviv University, more than 200 people wore black as they attended a ceremony to mark the Nakba anniversary.
Other Palestinians and Arabs across the world commemorated the day on social media.
Israeli Jews, in contrast, celebrated in public parties in two very different sets of reactions to the anniversary of Israel's founding.
For the Palestinians, the right of return to homes they fled or were forced out of is a prerequisite for any peace agreement with Israel.
However, Israel says it will never accept a "right of return", arguing it would threaten the state by diluting its Jewish majority.
Many perceive the 1948 atrocities - marked by the destruction of 531 Palestinian towns and villages as well as 33 massacres by Israel - as just the beginning of a Nakba that has continued to this day.
"Since 1948, Israel has employed deliberate and systematic acts of violence, colonialism, and destruction at the expense of the Palestinian people, their rights, lands, and resources," Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said in a press release published on Saturday under the title "The Nakba continues".
The annual "right of return rally" was started 19 years ago, and is held in a different historically Palestinian village every year to demand the right of its people to return home.
On the same day, Israeli forces raided multiple neighbourhoods across the occupied West Bank late on Saturday night, detaining at least three Palestinians, launching tear gas canisters and stun grenades, and setting fire to olive trees.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma'an News that Israeli forces detained two Palestinians near Bethlehem and another next to Ramallah, while others suffered from tear gas inhalation.