Amid Israeli Independence Day, Thousands of Arab-Palestinians Join the Annual “March of Return”

Thousands of Arab-Palestinians from across Israel, together with scores of Jewish supporters, participated in the “March of Return” in the Negev on Thursday, May 12, Israel’s Independence Day, calling for a return to their villages lost during the Nakba which commenced in 1948.

The event – the 19th consecutive annual “March of Return” organized by the National Committee for the Defense of the Uprooted – included a ceremony held at the site of Wadi Zubalah from which Bedouin residents were expelled by the government during the 1950s. There the participants collectively swore to defend the land and to uphold the right of displaced Palestinians and their descendants to return to the sites of their former homes.

Thousands of Arab-Palestinians from across Israel participated in the 19th annual “March of Return” held in the Negev on Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thousands of Arab-Palestinians from across Israel participated in the 19th annual “March of Return” held in the Negev on Thursday, May 12, 2016 (Photo: Al Ittihad)

The organizers of the march said the decision to hold the event in the Negev this year was intended to convey the deep concern of the Arab public in Israel over the increasingly difficult situation in the south of Israel, specifically the furthering of implementation of the far-right government’s plans to evict Arab-Bedouin living in unrecognized communities in the region.

According to Al-Ittihad, the daily Arabic-language newspaper of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI), leader of the Joint List bloc in the Knesset, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), said in a speech before the crowd: “The Nakba is not a question of the past but of the future. Recognition of the Nakba, of this great crime, and gestures to correct this wrong, are the only way toward true reconciliation between the two peoples [Israelis and Palestinians].”

Muhammad Barakeh, the leader of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and a former MK from Hadash, told the Jerusalem Post, “Our message to the government is that the flag of justice will not fall from hour hands, even if we are experiencing difficult days.” To the crowd Barakeh said: “What happened in the Nakba was a crime of slaughter and displacement, and it’s impossible to correct this injustice without ensuring the right of return.” He continued: “What’s happening today is clear. Israel is degenerating into an apartheid state but, even so, the world still somehow praises Israeli democracy.”

“For the Palestinians, the Nabka isn’t just a historical event, but a personal wound in the heart of every refugee and displaced person,” added Barakeh. “Most people didn’t flee, as some claim, but were forcibly uprooted. Yet even those who actually fled did so lest they face death, based on crimes that had already been committed in other locations, and this in no way precludes their right to return.”

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) told the Jerusalem Post that the event was held in the Negev to bring attention to the plight of the unrecognized Arab-Bedouin villages and home demolitions on what the government says are illegal settlements. “The Arab-Bedouin community has historical rights to these lands. We are sending a message that this is an integral struggle of our entire community against the government’s destruction of our villages,” said Jabareen. “About one-quarter of the Arab-Palestinian community in Israel are internally displaced persons and their descendents, and have been denied by draconian, racist legislation passed shortly after 1948 the right to return to their lands and villages,” said Jabareen.