NEW YORK — As thousands of Palestinians mobilized throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and present-day Israel to mark the 68th anniversary of the Nakba on May 15, more gathered with their supporters in cities across the world.
“Nakba Day is extremely significant for Palestinians,” Ibrahim Mossallam, outreach director for the Muslim American Society – New York and a member of American Muslims for Palestine, told MintPress News.
“It commemorates the day that hundreds of Palestinian villages and cities were ethnically cleansed and destroyed by the Zionist forces, resulting in massacres where thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced to refugee camps.”
The Nakba, an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe,” describes the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians by Zionist militias, and later Israeli forces, during the founding of the state of Israel.
While these expulsions began in December 1947, Palestinians commemorate them annually on May 15, marking the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the declaration of the state of Israel the previous day in 1948.
These gatherings both publicize the mass displacement that accompanied Israel’s founding and demand the right of return for over 7 million Palestinians, now the world’s largest and longest-lasting refugee community.
Return is a goal shared by every Palestinian faction, as well as solidarity campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
In New York, hundreds rallied beside City Hall in Manhattan before marching over the Brooklyn Bridge to gather in Cadman Plaza Park.
The largely Palestinian crowd also included representatives of other communities ranging from BAYAN USA, a Filipino-American organization, to NYC Shut It Down, a Black Lives Matter protest group, to dozens of anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jews from Neturei Karta.
‘The diaspora, especially younger generations, do not forget’
The gathering showed “that the diaspora, especially younger generations, do not forget their rightful home and that they will continue to fight for it,” Nerdeen Kiswani, chair of New York City Students for Justice in Palestine, told MintPress.
Kiswani, a student at the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island and Hunter College, was barred by Israeli occupation forces from travelling to the West Bank after 15 hours of interrogation at the Allenby bridge from Jordan last year.
Israel’s attempts to exclude Palestinians in the diaspora from their homeland, to revoke the residency permits of East Jerusalemites, forcing them further into the West Bank, to forcibly relocate West Bank residents accused of resistance activities to the Gaza Strip, and to deny Gaza a functioning economy through a crippling siege and periodic bombardments, forcing its occupants to seek opportunities abroad, show the state’s continuous determination to reduce the Palestinian population and push those who remain into heavily-guarded enclaves, many say.
For Palestinians marking the Nakba, it signifies not only a historical event, but also an ongoing process that continues to expel and enclose millions.
And global outpourings each Nakba Day demonstrate the determination of millions to return to their homes, however many generations removed.
“It is acknowledging the means in which Israel came to be — ethnic cleansing, genocide, and colonialism — and affirming it has no right to exist as a state built on the deaths and backs of our ancestors,” Kiswani said.
“The strongest message we send in Nakba Day commemorations is that we will not forget, and we will return.”
‘A recommitment to the promise of keeping the struggle alive’
Dozens of events this year spanned six continents, from a rally in Johannesburg, South Africa, to a march in São Paulo, Brazil.
Demonstrators in London were confronted by dozens of angry Zionists who attempted to disrupt their march and dabke dance line.
Other gatherings went off without a hitch, or, as in New York, with the minimal annoyance of a few hecklers, one holding an agrammatical sign that read, “Keep Israel Wall.”
As the rally by City Hall swelled in numbers, many speakers recounted their own family’s histories of displacement.
One, Ayman Nijim, talked about Israel’s refusal to allow him to re-enter the Gaza Strip, which he left to study in the United States in 2014 and where his wife and children still live.
Another, Lamis Deek, spoke of the recent takeover of her childhood home in the West Bank by Israeli occupation forces.
Others memories reached the beginnings of the Nakba, with Abbas Hamideh, the vice chair of Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, who traveled from Cleveland for the event, speaking of a notorious massacre by Zionist militias that emptied his family’s village west of Jerusalem, Deir Yassin, before Israeli forces occupied it in 1948.
“Nakba Day is a day of remembrance of the Palestinian catastrophe for all Palestinians, especially the refugees wishing to go home,” Hamideh told MintPress.
“It is also a recommitment to the promise of keeping the struggle alive and a rededication to hold steadfast to the inalienable right of return to our ancestral homeland, Palestine.”
‘The right of return is a sacred right;
As marchers crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, a cold shower of rain fell, but the light sprinkles had dissipated by the time they reached the green fields of Cadman Plaza Park.
And as the gathering dispersed under the warm glow of an emerging sun, participants told MintPress that their struggle would continue.
“Raising awareness is extremely important, but it is also about showing that we will be militant, steadfast, and affirm Palestinian rights not just when people are dying by the hundreds,” Kiswani said.
Others added that the Nakba and the fight to return would remain central to the Palestinian and solidarity movements.
“The right of return is both a collective and individual right that can never be negotiated away,” Hamideh said. “The right of return is a sacred right for the Palestinian refugees.”