Palestinians commemorate the Nakba (or “Catastrophe”) when approximately 750,000 of them fled or were driven out of their homes by Zionist military forces between 1947 and 1949, during the course of which the founding of the State of Israel was declared by the leaders of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine. Last Thursday, April 19, over 20,000 Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel gathered to participate in the 21st annual “March of Return” to mark the dispossession of their kinsmen and women from their country and lands.
This year’s march, called for by the High Follow-Up Committee of Arab Citizens of Israel, currently headed by former Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh, and organized, as it has since 1998, by the Association for the Protection of the Rights of the Displaced, took place near the abandoned Palestinian village of Athlit. From this small coastal village south of Haifa, all 170 Palestinian Arabs were driven out in 1948, and from here they either fled to other locales within what became Israel, where they achieved the oxymoronic status of “present absentees” (the Israeli legal term for internally displaced Arab citizens who, according to legislation passed by the Knesset in 1950, lost all claim to the land and property they left behind) or crossed into neighboring countries like Lebanon, where they and their descendants remain refugees until today.
The annual “March of Return,” which since its inception takes place on the same day that Israel marks its Independence Day, unites local committees of dozens of villages from around Israel, a spokesperson for the organization said. “This is the day marking the erasure of more than 500 Arab villages and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. This is the day when the Palestinians unite here with memory and grief over shattered families and brothers who have been scattered in all directions.”
Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) was present at this year’s demonstration at Athlit, where he reiterated the right of return for Palestinian refugees. “Our insistence on the right of return for our refugees, our Palestinian people, will continue to commemorate our villages that were destroyed in 1948. We will continue to preserve the Palestinian narrative and memories generation after generation until this right, which is recognized by all international conventions and treaties, is executed and our people return to their homes.”