Nakba Day 2011

A Report by Yossi Schwartz of the Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine)

On Nakba day, May 15, the author of this report participated in a demonstration in the North of Israel 14 kilometers (less than 9 miles) from the Lebanese border. The Nakba (catastrophe) refers to the 1948 founding of Israel, when between 700,000 and 900,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and homeland to clear the way for the creation of a capitalist state with a Jewish majority.

We were a group of about 400 who tried to reach the border with Lebanon, but we were forced to stop by the police. We were allowed to demonstrate for one hour before we were attacked by the police with tear gas. About 10 of us suffered for hours from this attack and 22 were arrested. However, compared to other Palestinians and the few Jews who participated in the Golan Heights, Ras Maroun in Lebanon and Gaza, the price we paid for the right to demonstrate for the Palestinian refugees to return was negligible.

Israel is doing everything to erase the memory of the Nakba. It removes the fact from the rewritten official books of history. The “Nakba bill,” proposed by the far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu, requires the state to fine local authorities and other state-funded bodies for holding events marking the Palestinian Nakba Day. A second bill, which passed by a majority of 35 to 20, formalizes the establishment of admission committees to review potential residents of Negev and Galilee communities that have fewer than 400 families.

After the passing of the bill, the Knesset erupted in riots as Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), refusing to limit himself to the comparison of the bill to South Africa’s apartheid, also mentioned the Wannsee Conference in which the Nazis decided on the Holocaust’s “final solution” – the gassing of Jews.

However, following yesterday’s demonstrations and the cold-blooded murder of a number of Palestinians, the name “Nakba” has now become familiar to many people around the world. At least one Palestinian was killed and up to 80 others wounded in northern Gaza as Israeli troops opened fire on a march of over 1,000 people heading towards the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

A group of Palestinians, including children, marching to mark the “Nakba” were shot by the Israeli army after crossing a Hamas checkpoint and entering what Israel calls a “buffer zone” – an empty area between checkpoints where Israeli soldiers generally shoot trespassers. Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston reported this from Gaza City on Sunday.

Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip’ Ismail Haniyeh’ in his speech said: “Palestinians mark the occasion this year with great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine.”

At the same time, acting on the new Fatah-Hamas agreement, Hamas tried to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the Buffer Zone. According to one of the demonstrators interviewed by Al Jazeera, “Hamas has asked us to leave; they are trying to move people away from the Israeli border. They say seeing so many people at the border indicates a shift in politics in the area.”

Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that Israeli gunfire killed 12 people and wounded hundreds in Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights (occupied in 1967), as Palestinians marched on Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza in a mass show of mourning over the creation of the Jewish state.

Initially, Israeli army radio reported that dozens were wounded when Palestinian refugees from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border were shot for trying to break through the frontier fence. The demonstrators carried keys to their houses, which Israel destroyed or gave to Israeli Jews following the mass expulsion of the Palestinians.

IDF spokesman Brigadier General Yoav “Poli” Mordechai described the incident in which Palestinians demonstrators crossed from Syria into Israel as an “Iranian provocation.” Israeli government officials have blamed Syria for “intentionally allowing hundreds of Syrian Arabs who call themselves Palestinians” to cross into the Golan Sunday. Syria is home to 470,000 Palestinian refugees.

There have also been reports that Israeli gunfire killed 10 people and injured scores more in the Lebanese town of Ras Maroun, on the southern border with Israel. In the southern city of Hebron, 12 people were hit by rubber bullets fired by Israeli troops, as an estimated 2,000 demonstrators held a protest, medical and security sources said.

One of the biggest Nakba demonstrations was held near Qalandiya refugee camp and checkpoint, the main secured entry point into the West Bank from Israel. About 100 protesters marched there, Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh reported from Ramallah.

In Jerusalem there were many clashes with the police, following the murder of Milad Ayyash, 16, on Saturday morning in East Jerusalem. He was killed by shots fired from the Beit Yonatan apartment complex, inhabited by Jewish settlers in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. Palestinian demonstrators attempted take over Palestinian houses given to Jewish settlers in Shiekh Jerah, called now the Moscowitz housing project by the settlers.

In Jordan, six people were injured as police tried to stop 200 students from marching on the border, while in Turkey, about 100 demonstrators held a protest outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, AFP correspondents said.

The main chant coming from the Palestinian demonstrators was: “The Palestinian people want to return to their land that Israel has stolen.”

It is clear that the Palestinian revolution being pushed forward by the Palestinian youth is part of the Arab revolution that is engulfing the Middle East. All the attempts to isolate the Palestinians and prevent a popular uprising could not prevent the courageous demonstrators from raising the need for a revolution.

The events yesterday have shown anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that a key question of the so called Israeli-Arab conflict is the Palestinians’ right of return.

The Israeli government has defended the killing of the Palestinians who tried to return to their land stolen by Israel. In reaction to the killing of unarmed Palestinians that took place on Israel’s existing borders on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was determined to defend itself and its sovereignty. Netanyahu said that the Nakba Day protests were not about the 1967 borders, but rather about “undermining the very existence of Israel.”

Netanyahu is right on one point. The demonstrations yesterday were not for a Palestinian mini-state alongside an Israel that continues to control 80% of Palestine. The demonstrations were for the right of the refugees to return to their land. Once the refugees will be able to return, the majority of the people living in Israel would be Palestinians. For this reason, Israel will be ready to kill thousands and thousands of Palestinians in an attempt to prevent such an outcome, and as long as Israel will exist the Palestinian refugees will not be able to return.

Since all Israel is stolen land, history has posed the question as follows: either the Israelis have the right to rule Palestine and not allow the right of self-determination of the Palestinians; or the Palestinians have the right of self-determination, which negates the right of self-determination of the Israeli Jews on Palestinian lands.

While Israeli Jews can live in security and equality in a Palestinian workers’ state, and while the Jewish workers who join the revolution will be part of the ruling class in a workers’ state, the continued existence of the Israeli state means not only the continued slaughter of Palestinians but the maintenance of Israel as a death trap for the Israelis as well.

We in the Internationalist Socialist League of Israel (occupied Palestine) distributed a leaflet yesterday which said that for the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands, the only solution is a socialist revolution that will create a Palestinian workers state from the river to the sea, as part of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.