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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/19/18

"A place I do not recognize": Palestinians mark 70 years of Israeli injustice

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He told MEE: "The annual march is now by far the largest event in the calendar of Palestinians inside Israel."

Over the years it has gained a huge symbolism for Palestinians across the Middle East, most of whom are barred from entering Israel.

Significantly, the same name -- the March of Return -- was adopted by Palestinians in Gaza for their recent weeks of protests at the perimeter fence. Israel has responded with sniper fire that has so far killed tens of demonstrators and wounded many hundreds.

"Our march to the destroyed villages is closely followed by all Palestinians but especially by the refugees in the camps," said Awaisi. "It shows them that they are not forgotten and that we continue to stand with them."

Organizers seek out refugees from the destroyed village at the centre of each march -- often those in camps in the region -- to relay a video message to the marchers.

"It is a heavy responsibility for those of us inside '48," added Awaisi -- a reference to the parts of historic Palestine that became Israel in 1948. "We march on behalf of all the refugees, to represent them because they are denied the right to attend."

Police violence

On Israel's 60th independence day a decade ago, the Nakba march was staged close to Saffuriya. It was chosen in part because Saffuriyans are among the largest refugee population inside Israel.

However, the event ended in unexpected violence when riot police confronted the marchers as they emerged from a forest glade where they had been listening to speeches from community leaders.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at crowds that included young families. Police on horseback, flailing batons, charged at the marchers, with dozens injured, including two Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament.

It marked a sea-change in Israel's attitude towards the Nakba march.

Awaisi, who was among those caught up in the police attack, said the Israeli authorities had been surprised by the large turnout that year and hoped a violent response would discourage future marches.

"They understand that the march is a national event that unites us as a community to demand our rights. That frightens them and is the reason why they have been putting more restrictions on the march each year."

Pappe, who now teaches at Exeter University, said most Israelis viewed the march not as a protest in defence of the refugees' rights, but as proof of growing Palestinian extremism.

"The march discomforts Israelis because it reminds them that the Palestinian minority's demands are connected to what happened in 1948," he told MEE.

"The event is seen as provocative and subversive. In fact, since 2000 and the outbreak of the second intifada, Israeli governments have regarded any assertion of Palestinian nationalism as an act of terror against the state."

Nakba Law

In 2011, in a sign of the mounting mood of intolerance, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu passed the Nakba Law. It deprives Israeli public institutions, including schools, universities and libraries, of funding should they mark the Nakba.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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