Thousands of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel marched in protest on Thursday, April 23, the public holiday marking the 67th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Israel’s statehood was declared on May 14, 1948, hours before the end of the British Mandate on Palestine. However, the anniversary of the state’s founding is celebrated according to the Jewish calendar, this year falling on April 23.
Palestinians officially mark the day on May 15, again, the anniversary of the end of the British Mandate, to commemorate the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) which befell their people in the war of 1947–48. But since 1998, the Association for the Defense of the Displaced People has organized an annual “March of Return” coinciding with Israel’s Independence Day. In this year’s march, thousands of Arab citizens of Israel, among them a number of Joint List MKs, formed a procession to and gathered at the site of the uprooted Palestinian village of al-Haditha in the eastern Galilee, waving Palestinian flags as they marched.
Every year the organizers choose the location of a different Arab village ruined in what Israelis see as their War of Independence to hold the event. The march to and congregation in the village are accompanied by calls for the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes. Villagers, or their descendents, who are now displaced inside Israel are invited to come and tell stories of life there before the Nakba. The village of al-Haditha, the site of this year’s event, located 12 km southwest of Tiberias is one of hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed during the 1947–48 war. “Our grandfathers who suffered displacement asked us not to sell our land and to return to it and not give up,” activist Hammad Abu al-Haija told the crowd. “Now we tell our own children and our grandchildren not to do so,” he said. More than 760,000 Palestinians, estimated today to number with their descendants no fewer than 4.7 million persons, fled into exile or were driven out of their homes during the armed conflict which erupted after the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (November 29, 1947) calling for the division of Palestine into two states, one Jewish the other Arab.