Bethlehem, occupied West Bank — Palestinians on Monday commemorated the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, meaning “catastrophe,” during which over 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948, as Israel was declared a state.
While the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees is generally at the center of all Nakba day commemorations, this year Palestinian prisoners took the front seat.
With an estimated 1,300 Palestinians on their 29th day of hunger strike in Israeli prisons on Monday, Palestinians held signs demanding negotiations and highlighting the strength of Palestinian political prisoners.
Naji Owdeh, a refugee from Dheisha refugee camp and director of Laylac, a youth center in the camp, told Mondoweiss that for Palestinians, the Right of Return movement as well as Palestinian prisoners, Palestinians killed and homes demolished by Israeli forces, as well a slew of other issues are all a part of the “ongoing Nakba,” which is intersectional in Palestinian activism.
“It wasn’t like we planned for the prisoners’ hunger strike to replace Nakba day and the Right of Return, but people must understand that for us every day here is a Nakba,” Owdeh said. “Injured people are part of the Nakba, martyrs, land confiscation, home demolitions, all of it — we live a continuous Nakba and it’s all combined.”
Throughout the marches, many held signs which featured the quote “Our chains will be broken before we are,” attributed to Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the open-ended hunger strike.
“Our Palestinian people are in jail on hunger strike so we must be close to them and support them because we are all a part of the same movement,” Owdeh continued. “We will not forget what happened in 1948, we also had lot of posters about Nakba and refugees, but what activists decided is that commemorating the Nakba is about planning the resistance against the occupation, to speak about Nakba is to speak about prisoners and martyrs and every other impact from the occupation. We will never divide the Palestinian political prisoners from the people who have been injured by occupation forces or any other issue related to what happens in the daily lives of Palestinians, but it’s been 29 days that these prisoners are on hunger strike and we believe that some of them will die for our cause, so we have to act more strongly to put pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to make a move for them.”
Thousands of Palestinians participated in marches across the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with at least ten people reported injured with live fire, according to Ma’an News Agency.
Tear gas, Israel’s main form of crowd control, was used in large amounts at demonstrations across the region. Pictures posted in Palestinian social media circles showed whole city blocks immersed in the white clouds of gas.
At the Nakba march in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem, Mondoweiss witnessed Israeli forces shooting copious amounts of tear gas, injuring scores of Palestinian protesters and press.
Rushing down a paved road, away from the main street where the air was saturated with gas, one man, a 43-year-old tour guide and refugee attending the Nakba march in Bethlehem collapsed in the shade of an alley outside a market.
He heaved, struggling to get air into his lungs, as a young man held alcohol wipes up to his nose in an attempt to clear the passage for air.
It took at least five minutes for the man’s breathing to settle back to normal. When asked if he came to this march every year or just this year for the prisoners, he told Mondoweiss he had never missed a march for the Nakba.
“The right of return and the issue of refugees is at the heart of the Palestinian cause,” he said, still propped up against the concrete wall in recovery. “But right next to the issue of refugees is the issue of prisoners. The refugees and the prisoners both gave up so much for Palestine, Israel took so much from them so we must support them always.”
“It has been 69 years, and we are willing to wait 69 more, but in the final step, our people will go back home, I do not question that,” he continued.
In a statement released by the Global Palestinian Refugee and IDP Network for Nakba day, prisoners’ rights and the need for negotiations with prisoners on hunger strike were highlighted.
“The resounding silence and lack of practical action by the international community in response to the Palestinian prisoners’ demands for dignified treatment; including access to health care, education, lawyers, families’ visits and tools of communication which constitute the most basic human rights is profound,” the statement read. “The lack of international response to the mass hunger strike of over 1000 Palestinian political prisoners who are in need of immediate intervention and protection symbolizes the dehumanization and demonization of the Palestinian people in their struggle for dignity, justice and freedom.”
Today more than 5 million Palestinians are registered refugees in camps in occupied West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and displaced across Syria.