Palestinians protest in Ramallah on anniversary of Israel's founding

Wed, May 16, 2012, 01:00

NAKBA (CATASTROPHE) Day passed off relatively peacefully yesterday as Palestinians and Israeli Arabs commemorated the 64th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel.

A few dozen Palestinians were lightly hurt during clashes with Israeli forces at a number of West Bank locations but the protests were mild compared with last year’s Nakba Day, when 14 people were killed and hundreds wounded during marches on the Israeli border from Lebanon and Syria.

Monday’s agreement ending the hunger strike by 1,600 Palestinian militants held in Israeli jails helped defuse tensions, and what was termed the “victory” of the hunger strike campaign was a central theme of yesterday’s rallies.

Schools and businesses closed down for the day in the West Bank and Gaza.

Nakba Day events began at noon with the sounding of a 64-second siren in Ramallah’s Yasser Arafat square. Demonstrators held up keys symbolising homes abandoned by families who were expelled by Jewish forces or fled during the fighting in 1948, and one banner read “Return is our right and our destiny”.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas told the crowd that the Nakba marked the beginning of Palestinian suffering.

“Today, our people from all walks of life unite to commemorate the Nakba, which displaced our people – and they continue to suffer as a result, whether living under occupation or in the refugee camps.”

In Gaza City, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya said the message to the refugees was to continue to press for the right of return.

“We will not accept any project that abandons the right of return or affects our sacred rights to the homeland,” he said.

Attending a rally in an Arab village in northern Israel, Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset parliament, criticised comments by right-wing minister Uzi Landau, who compared Nakba Day events to commemorating the Nazi fallen in the second World War.

“Recognition and empathy with the suffering of the other is a supreme human value, and a step toward reconciliation between peoples,” he said.

To coincide with Nakba Day, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s research centre released its annual census of Palestinians worldwide. Palestinians numbered 11.2 million in 2011, with 4.2 million living in the West Bank and Gaza, and 1.37 million living inside Israel.

Some five million Palestinians live across the Arab world and 630,000 live in various European countries and the United States.