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Thousands of Palestinians mark Nakba Day at March of Return

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Palestinian men wave flags during Nakba Day commemoration at the site of the village of Lubya, near the northern city of Tiberias in the Galilee. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Palestinian men wave flags during Nakba Day commemoration at the site of the village of Lubya, near the northern city of Tiberias in the Galilee. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

While Israelis flocked to parks to celebrate their Independence Day, Palestinians living inside Israel commemorated Nakba Day at the site of the village of Lubya, near the northern city of Tiberias in the Galilee.

Lubya was one of more than 500 Palestinian villages ethnically cleansed by Jewish militias in 1948 to make way for the founding of Israel. An annual event for the last 17 years, the March of Return was organized by various Palestinian groups and brought an estimated 10,000 Palestinians to commemorate their dispossession.

Since the expulsion of more than 2,700 Palestinians from Lubya, Israel created the Golani Industrial Area as well as the towns of Givat Avni and Lavi (the hebraized version of the village’s original name).

An Israeli policeman walks by cars with Israeli flags while carrying a confiscated Palestinian flag. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

An Israeli policeman walks by cars with Israeli flags while carrying a confiscated Palestinian flag. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Hundreds of Palestinian cars displaying flags slowly crawled along the highway toward Lubya while Israeli vehicles headed to Independence Day celebrations waved their respective flags. As traffic came to a standstill, many busloads of Palestinians exited and walked along the shoulder of the highway toward the march. A large group of Israelis in a nearby park gathered along the highway, waving flags, singing songs, and shouting “Death to Arabs!”

A crowd of Israelis celebrating in a nearby park gather next to the highway to taunt Palestinians walking by. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A crowd of Israelis celebrating in a nearby park gather next to the highway to taunt Palestinians walking by. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Indifferent to the racist and violent chants, Israeli Police equipped with riot gear confiscated Palestinian flags from vehicles stuck in traffic. Cheers erupted from the crowd of Israelis as a policeman confiscated a Palestinian flag from an elderly woman in the passenger seat of a van. There were several reports of similar incidents.

Israeli police watch over Palestinians as they begin the March of Return. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Israeli police watch over Palestinians as they begin the March of Return. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Palestinians hiked up a dusty trail through a forest to an open area. Along the path, multi-generational portraits of refugees from Lubya were hung between trees as part of an art installation.

Palestinian women sit on the site of Lubya behind a portrait of refugees. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Palestinian women sit on the site of Lubya behind a portrait of refugees. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The crowd slowly built while an Israeli police helicopter circled in the air above. Palestinians of all ages waved hundreds of flags and sang national songs. A moment of silence was held for the depopulated villages before prominent speakers took the stage to address the crowd.

Samer Issawi, the iconic Palestinian hunger striker who was released from Israeli prison in December 2013, spoke about the prisoners struggle and the futility of negotiations. Mohammed Barakeh, a member of the Knesset for the Hadash party, spoke as well about the right of return.

Thousands of people gather to commemorate the 1948 Nakba. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Thousands of people gather to commemorate the 1948 Nakba. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The Israeli historian and author Ilan Pappe attended, and explained his presence to me:

“I think it’s important that the progressive Jewish voice will be represented in what is the heart of the issue in Palestine: the refugee problem. We support the Palestinian internal refugees, which are off the radar and whose right to return should be the first right to be respected if we ever want reconciliation. So I came to salute them, to support them and call on other Jews to join me in this solidarity. Some Palestinian friends who have never heard me before said, ‘I didn’t think I would come to live to a day that they would hear a Jew speak like this.’”

I spoke to Tarek Barki, 28, a computer programmer from East Jerusalem who documents Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed.

Tarek explained the significance of Nakba Day:

“It’s so important to gather all these people in one place and I really felt glad and happy to see all these children holding these Palestinian flags, knowing about this village which was ethnically cleansed in 1948 during Nakba. So I think it’s a big achievement.”

“For me, at a personal level, when we were in the village, I communicated with my friends from Lubya and now they are living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. I had a friend in Lebanon, she is originally from Lubya. I talked to her on Skype. I opened the camera to see the village and the people in her village. I have a friend also in a refugee camp in Syria and we opened Skype and he saw everything.”

Multiple generations attended the Nakba Day commemoration. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Multiple generations attended the Nakba Day commemoration. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Tarek Elayan, a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship, explained, “For several days, we’ve seen all the flags of Israel. Suddenly we saw all these flags of Palestine in one place. Maybe it was a little provocative for the Israelis, but we like it. “

Tarek Barki continued:

“Jerusalem the last couple of days, you see the flags everywhere. I also went to Nablus yesterday. Inside the West Bank, every junction near the settlements, the flags are everywhere. Sometimes near the villages in the West Bank. It was so provoking. Today, after Lubya, I saw thousands of Palestinian flags, I felt like I’m really comfortable now.”

I asked Tarek Barki for his thoughts on the confiscation of Palestinian flags. He replied, “They claim democracy everywhere, but they take a flag from a little kid. Are you afraid of our flag? You don’t want us to exist here? But no, we stay here. It’s a big lie.”

Palestinian girls sing the national anthem. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Girls sing the Palestinian national anthem. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Thawra Abukhdeir, 19, a nursing student from Jerusalem, explained the absurdity of Israeli Independence Day: “Independence from what? From whom? They were in diaspora and came to my country, declared themselves free and took our freedom!”

As negotiations again prove to be fruitless, it is clear that Palestinians inside Israel will not forget their past. The massive turnout for Nakba Day demonstrates that grassroots movements will continue to commemorate the expulsion of the refugees and work for their return.

Israeli police sit in front of the sign for the towns built on the site of Lubya. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Israeli police sit in front of the sign for the towns built on the site of Lubya. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Dan Cohen
About Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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21 Responses

  1. annie
    annie on May 8, 2014, 9:47 am

    the photo of the girl w/the fist over her heart, wow. thank you dan.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on May 8, 2014, 10:02 am

      And the other two girls don’t look like they’re far behind.

  2. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka on May 8, 2014, 10:11 am

    The crowd of Jews who gathered to taunt the Palestinians are not different than the Nazis who marched in Skokie, Ill.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on May 8, 2014, 5:46 pm

      @ Woody T
      I was there, living in Skokie at the time. I also went to Marquette Park.

    • Eric
      Eric on May 8, 2014, 10:30 pm

      Except the Nazis in Skokie didn’t have the support of 99% of the members of Congress. But the underlying fascist ideology from both groups was identical…

    • Kay24
      Kay24 on May 9, 2014, 7:38 am

      There is no doubt they act like nazis. It seems they think only they are entitled to commemorate or mourn, what they have gone through. The Palestinians are NOT supposed to protest their losses in any way. Any event that brings focus on the brutal military occupation, is not allowed, because the world should not know how vicious that occupier is, and what these poor Palestinians have endured.
      Good to know these supporters were not deterred by rowdy behavior.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on May 9, 2014, 8:48 am

      @ Woody
      The Nazis never marched in Skokie, even though Skokie’s ordinances requiring a very high priced marching permit was invalidated by the Illinois Supreme Court. The Nazis therefore held their protest in Marquette Park. I still have an Israeli flag and a neoNazi t-shirt, both handed to me by the crowd. The demonstrators and the counter-demonstrators were each on their side; I was in the middle of these two sides. The neoNazis were a very small group, themselves, but they had local sympathizers. The park was located in a working class white neighborhood, very different from Skokie generally, where pleas to donate to free Russian Jews was everywhere, and as well, to donate to Israel in those blue and white containers, part of the subject here of Canadian and apartheid S African donations to pave over Palestinian villages with new trees, etc. In those days, living in Skokie, and having lived in Chicago on both the wealthier N Side, and the steel mill S side, I didn’t ever come in contact with a single neighbor or local who knew anything at all about the Nakba. Unfortunately, all these 35 years later, I still never come into personal physical contact with anyone who knows anything about the Nakba. This suggests to me that Derfer’s timeline of ten years is conservative, although I responded to him here I thought maybe 5 years before the die would be fully cast on the I-P issue. Yet, something, I don’t know what, might shorten this tipping point…. who knows, it might involve the Putin v US dispute as fallout in the ME?

    • john_manyjars
      john_manyjars on May 10, 2014, 9:25 pm

      Perhaps, but the Nazi types were vastly outnumbered (thankfully) by those protesting their march- and didn’t have the guns of the US Army ready to shoot anyone who threw rocks or made threatening gestures at them.

      I think the Nazis in Skokie, disgusting as they were/are, are much braver than the Zionist filth that taunts defenseless Palestinians from behind the shield of the IDF.

  3. talknic
    talknic on May 8, 2014, 11:38 am


  4. Walid
    Walid on May 8, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Nakba Day has also very special for me since 3 years back. I was at Maroun al-Ras among 100,000 mostly Palestinians gathered there. I had left home at 4 am to reach the site by 6 am to be at the front of the crowd. Getting there was also thrilling as along the last half of the 140 km trip, Palestinians had installed for the event on trees and lampposts in the various villages, hand-made directional arrow signs on the road indicating the way to Palestine. Once there, it became very emotional for Palestinians that had made it into the plaza because for many that had been born in the camps, it was the first time they could actually see Palestine because the gathering site was on a high hill overlooking the lush-green occupied land clearly visible below as far as the eye could see.

    The day’s ceremonies with speeches and Palestinian songs were being conducted in a plaza high on a hill that had a giant screen about 2 km from the fence. Just before noon about an hour into the ceremonies, the giant screen started relaying Israel’s channel 10’s live coverage of the IDF soldiers and tanks from the Israeli side of the fence. It’s when these close-up images of the soldiers were seen on the giant screen that hundreds took to running down the hill towards the fence and I ran with them. I was probably lucky because my tired legs from the tricky climb down the hill couldn’t get me nearer than the last kilometer to reach the fence. Even more people started rushing down the hill and pushing their way through the army’s barricade when the giant screen started showing close-up pictures of people getting shot at the fence. The day turned ugly as the Israelis started shooting at the unarmed people trying to pin their Palestinian flags on the barbed wire fence. A couple succeed before getting shot. 10 people were killed and 120 were injured by IDF gunfire. The sight of the injured being carried up the hill by the people to reach the ambulances that couldn’t get down the rocky hill along with the wailing of the sirens was heartbreaking. It was evident that those that rushed to the fence simply wanted to put up their flags on it as on the other side of the barbed wire that no one could climb in any event, there were 2 tanks and 3 personnel carriers with hundreds of soldiers with guns aimed at the fence. It was a memorably sad day. The video shows the plaza, the hill and the fence.

    • seafoid
      seafoid on May 8, 2014, 1:46 pm

      That was the year Mubarak fell, wasn’t it? Before the reactionaries took back power.
      No coincidence there hasn’t been a repeat I suppose.

      • Walid
        Walid on May 8, 2014, 4:35 pm

        The following year (2012) had promised an even bigger turnout but Israel served notice on the Lebanese authorities that if they’d let this happen again, there would be severe consequences by Israel in retaliation against Lebanon, so the Lebanese Army closed down the whole border area and only local residents were allowed in and out. Some minor commemorative events were held in the Palestinian camps.

        Nakba Day 2011 was also the day Palestinians succeeded in crossing the fence from the Syrian side of the Golan that gave the Israelis the scare of their lives. One of them even made it into TA and simply gave himself up saying he did because he wanted to see Jaffa. Same kind of stories came out of Gaza and from the West Bank. The Palestinians everywhere were really lit up, and this is how they should be all the time and not just once a year on Nakba Day. Nothing else is going to give them back their freedom or their state.

        Video of the Palestinian that crossed the fence on the Golan and hitched a ride to TA where he gave himself up:

    • ritzl
      ritzl on May 8, 2014, 1:52 pm

      Thanks Walid. I wish there was more I could do.

  5. Nubia
    Nubia on May 9, 2014, 1:42 am

    So thrilling to see Palestinians here. Lubia of course is the village for which the Jewish National Fund received donations from South African Jews to plant the “South Africa Forest” in the land above the rubble of demolished homes.. A common JNF scenario, the forest and the new name were meant to extinguish both the Israeli crime and Palestinian memory.

    The ethnic cleansing of Lubia and the cover-up have now been brilliantly documented in the 2013 film, “The Village under the Forest”. It also records the shock of at least one South African donor when she sees how money her family put into the blue JNF boxes was spent. The film can be rented at until it is released.

  6. Walid
    Walid on May 9, 2014, 2:38 am

    Thanks for the tip, Nubia. Just watched the trailer and it looks like a great documentary about a village Israel says was never there and that it tried to cover up with the South African Forest you mentioned. The film is a credit to good Israelis willing to make such a documentary that states that the Nakba is also part of their history. The short trailer:

  7. Walid
    Walid on May 9, 2014, 4:13 am

    There has to be something sick about Israelis that enjoy partying on sites of destroyed Palestinian villages. Another Nakba story by Gideon Levy in Haaretz from 2011 that mentions another forest where Israelis celebrate their “independence”; it’s the 7500-acre Canada Village built with tax-exempt Canadian money to camouflage the ruins of the 3 Palestinian villages of Beit Nuba, Yalu and Imwas that were ethnically cleansed of their 14,000 peaceful Palestinians on June 7, 1967:

    “… It is possible to justify everything Israel did during its War of Independence, and it is also possible to ask difficult questions, but it is, first of all, essential to know – everything.

    It is necessary to know that there were 418 villages here that were wiped off the face of the earth, and it should be remembered that there were more than 600,000 natives of this land who fled or were expelled not to return to their homes, and that to this day most of them, they and their offspring, live in terrible conditions, carrying keys to their lost homes. It is possible and necessary to teach our pupils that this glory which is the establishment of Israel also has a dark side. This must be taught so that we can know our history, and so that we can understand the wishes of the Palestinians, even if there is no intention of realizing them. We can call this, “know your enemy,” but to know we must.

    We must know that under nearly every patch of Jewish National Fund forest rest the ruins that Israel was keen to erase, to ensure that they not serve as evidence of a different heritage. We can know that under our flourishing Canada Park hide the ruins of three villages which Israel razed after the Six Day War, putting its residents on a bus and expelling them. We can now turn our sights to the ruins of the homes that remained on the sides of the roads, from which we turn away, and remember that once there was life there. We can even put up memorial sites, in the land full of memorials, to commemorate the villages that are no longer there. We can ask how is it that along the coast, between Jaffa and Gaza, there is not a single village.

    We must also ask why the mosque in the heart of Moshav Zechariya is surrounded by a fence with the sign, “Danger, unsafe structure.” It is not this holy structure of theirs that is dangerous. We can also ask where do the residents of Zechariya live today, on whose ruins the moshav was built (the answer: the poor Deheisheh refugee camp ). This does not constitute a breach of faith. It is not treachery against the Zionist ideal: it is historical and intellectual honesty, perhaps courageous, but certainly something which the circumstances require.

    On the day of this Nakba, it is possible to begin telling the entire truth. If we are so proud of it, why hide it? And if we are embarrassed by it, the time has come to expose it and deal with it. Only on the day that the pupils in Israel also learn about the Nakba, will we know that the earth is no longer burning under our feet and that the Zionist enterprise has been completed….”

    For those that have the stamina to hear and see “break-their-bones” Rabin lying through his teeth in the interview, a CBC Radio-Canada “Fifth Estate” documentary that wipes the floor with Israel over what it had done to the 3 villages, also with Uri Avnery saying that Canada helped cover up Israel’s crime:

    • talknic
      talknic on May 9, 2014, 6:38 am

      One should emphasize that Canadians/JNF bought ‘real estate’, not ‘territory’.

      The Israeli Land Fund lies

      “The State of Israel today was built on land which was legally purchased by Jewish organizations such as the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and other private individuals.”

      UNSC resolutions do not use the word ‘land’. ‘Land’ is ‘real estate’ or ‘property’. ‘Territory belongs to all of its legitimate citizens whether they own ‘real estate’, rent ‘real estate’ or live under a bridge.

  8. Walid
    Walid on May 9, 2014, 5:56 am

    A bit of good news for Palestinians: Orthodox priest, Father Gabriel Nadaf that has been encouraging Christians to join the IDF has been fired by the church. There’s still a Father Attieh that needs to be also fired for the same reason. From I24 News :

    “… Arab priest fired for backing Israeli army service

    Greek Orthodox church dismisses Father Gabriel Nadaf after he ‘interfered in matters of the army’

    The Greek Orthodox church in the Holy Land has dismissed an Israeli Arab priest who publicly voiced support for Christian Arabs serving in Israel’s army, a church spokesman said Thursday.

    Spokesman Issa Musleh told AFP that ecclesiastical authorities decided Tuesday to fire Father Gabriel Nadaf from his post in Nazareth, but were only now making their decision public.

    “We warned him before to keep to his priestly duties and not to interfere in matters of the army,” Musleh said.

    “When he did not heed our warning, we held a meeting of the church court which decided to sack him.”

    He said no written notification had been given to Nadaf. “We announce this now,” he said.

    Nadaf told AFP he had received no official notification of the sacking and dismissed reports that he had been fired as media speculation.”

  9. Citizen
    Citizen on May 9, 2014, 8:58 am

    We all know from Israeli sources that the Palestinian children are propagandized against the Jews; but Americans generally don’t know the reverse is also true:

  10. Citizen
    Citizen on May 9, 2014, 2:13 pm

    Anybody here ever read The Heart Of Everything There Is? It’s about Red Cloud’s fight against the forked tongue white American colonials; he was the only native American who defeated the USA in a war. In the end, of course, he lost due to US lebensraum policy, divine mission, and, most of all in the fight for natural resources, such as, most especially, gold.

  11. john_manyjars
    john_manyjars on May 10, 2014, 9:21 pm

    Sooner or later- probably later- this is going to end very badly for Israel. They must be blind to history- India comes to mind.

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