BETHLEHEM — Thousands of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip participated in massive demonstrations on Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes when the state of Israel was established in 1948.
More than six million Palestinians, whether in the occupied Palestinian territory or in the diaspora, still call for the application of their internationally recognized right of return to their homes and villages in present-day Israel.
In the Gaza Strip, the weeks-long “Great March of Return” protest came to a climax, as the death toll reached 61 overnight — the youngest killed an identified as 8-month old girl who died of tear gas inhalation.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces suppressed protests largely with tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and sound bombs, though some cases of live ammunition were reported.
‘We will never give up our right of return’
In the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, around 600 Palestinian protesters marched peacefully from the southern end of the city until they reached the Israeli separation wall and a permanent military base and watchtower on the northern end of the city.
Protesters waved palestinian flags and black flags with images of keys saying “return,” as they chanted slogans saying “America is the head of the snake,” and “Jerusalem is Palestinian, and will stay that way forever.”
Dozens of Israeli soldiers were deployed outside the wall, and almost immediately dispersed the protesters with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. Protesters remained in the area for hours, as some youth burned tires and through stone at the soldiers.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 12 Palestinians in Bethlehem were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets, while 33 others were treated for severe tear-gas inhalation.
Mondoweiss spoke to several posters, who expressed their frustrations with 70 years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
Azhar Abu Srour, a Palestinian refugee who was at the protest, spoke to Mondoweiss as she waved a Palestinian flag, as rubber-coated steel bullets whizzed on the main road behind her.
“I am here as a refugee, to demand my right of return to my homeland, Beit Nattif, which we were expelled from 70 years ago,” she said. “I am also here to protest against the massacre of our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza, who have been protesting for weeks, for this same basic right of return.”
Abu Srour expressed frustrations with the inaction of the international community on the Palestinian refugee issue, saying that “it has been 70 years, this issue should have been solved by now.”
“But even if it is for 70 more years, or 100 years, I will never give up this right, and neither will my children, or any future Palestinian generations of refugees, until we return back to our lands.”
Dozens injured in Hebron, Ramallah protests
Israeli forces heavily suppressed protests in the central occupied West Bank city of Ramallah for the second day in a row.
According to early afternoon reports from the Palestinian Red Crescent, 23 Palestinians were injured from tear gas inhalation, while 30 others were injured from rubber-coated bullets, two of which were reportedly hit in the face.
Meanwhile, local media reported that seven Palestinians had been hit with live ammunition during ramallah-area protests, including one who was shot in the back and reported to be in critical condition.
In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, at least one Palestinian was reported to have been injured with a live bullet in the Bab al-Zawiya area of the city, close to Hebron’s Old City.
Two Palestinians killed in northern Gaza
The Gaza Ministry of Health reported at 8 p.m. that two Palestinians had been killed during clashes east of the al-Bureij refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing the total death toll from Monday and Tuesday’s protests to at least 63 Palestinians.
One of the two slain Palestinians was identified as Nasser Ghorab, 51.
The ministry added that 417 people were wounded during Tuesday’s protests, with injuries ranging from live ammunition to tear gas.