Friday marked the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, signifying the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homelands in 1948.
Every year on May 15th, the day after Israeli independence day, Palestinians commemorate the occasion, typically with massive protests and demonstrations against the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine.
This year, however, protests and demonstrations were canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, which continues to affect Israel and Palestine, the latter on a much lesser scale.
Palestinians instead opted for smaller scale, and online commemorations of the occasion.
Cars hooked up with speakers roamed the streets of the West Bank playing national songs, people flooded social media with tributes to the struggle of Palestinian refugees, and in refugee camps across the occupied territory, people rose their Palestinian flags and vowed to return to their homelands.
On the eve of Nakba day in the Aida refugee camp, one of three camps in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem, people of all ages gathered under the camp’s entrance, a gigantic “key of return”,and lit up lanterns, setting them off into the night sky.
“These lanterns are a message to say that we will return,” Anas Abu Srour, a third generation refugee from Aida camp told Mondoweiss.
“We can’t get to our homelands, but these lanterns will fly above our occupied lands in Israel, and send the message that we will return, just like these lanterns,” Abu Srour said.
In an act of “peaceful resistance” on Friday afternoon, children from the Aida camp flew dozens of kites on the main street of the camp, hundreds of meters away from a permanent Israeli military base.
Minutes after the children began flying their kites, Israeli forces opened the gates to the base, and began raining tear gas down on the kids and into the camp, which has been identified by a UN study as the most tear gassed place in the world.
As one elderly man from the camp put it, “the Nakba did not end in 1948. It is ongoing, every single day.”
The Nakba has become a central tenet of modern Palestinian history and tradition, and for Palestinians signifies one of, if not the biggest tragedy faced by their people.
It is estimated that at least 750,000 Palestinians, nearly half of Palestine’s Arab population, became refugees in the months leading up to, and following the establishment of the state of Israel.
Many people were forcibly expelled by Zionist militias, who burned, pillaged, and massacred entire communities and villages. Others fled their homes out of fear of what might happen to them, traveling on foot with not much more than the clothes on their backs.
Today, it is estimated that the number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants total nearly 6 million people around the world.
More than 1.5 million Palestinians live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
In 1948, the UN General Assembly ratified Resolution 194, which affirms the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands “at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
To this day, Israel denies the right of return of Palestinian refugees.