Thousands of Arab Israelis from across the country attended a demonstration in the Negev on Independence Day – the 19th annual event – calling for a return to their villages lost during the War of Independence.
As Palestinian flags waved in the crowd and the national anthem Biladi (My Country) blared, thousands stood with hand over heart – with a strong nationalist feeling in the air.
Speakers made calls to unity and used phrases such as “our land.” There were tents with pictures of Arab villages lost during the 1948 war.
Numerous Israeli Arab media outlets were present and some 30 buses and hundreds of cars were parked in a field at the event site near Rahat. The atmosphere had the feeling of a cultural event, with families and children in strollers.
Joint List head Ayman Odeh said, “The question of the Nakba [the “disaster” that Arabs consider the establishment of Israel] is not a question of the past, but a question of the future.
Acknowledging the Nakba, and acting for correcting the injustice is the only way to true reconciliation between the two peoples.”
Joint List MK and Balad head Jamal Zahalka told The Jerusalem Post
the event “emphasized that we need to defend our villages, houses, and land.”
The message is that, “We will return to our villages and homes,” he added.
Asked if this goal is realistic, especially with a right-wing government in power, Zahalka responded, “We want justice. The Palestinian people has suffered.”
He described the event as having “a feeling of struggle.” Pressed if the goal of return would ever be achieved, he replied, “Time will tell.”
Muhammad Barakei, the leader of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and former Hadash chairman, told the Post, “The message to the government is that the flag of justice will not fall, even if we are passing difficult days.”
He noted the strong youth presence and said they “will not lose the narrative.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen told the Post that the event was held in the Negev to bring attention to the plight of the unrecognized Beduin villages and home demolitions on what the government says are illegal settlements.
“The Arab-Beduin community has historical rights to these lands.”
“We are sending a message that this is an integral struggle of the entire community against the government destruction of villages,” said Jabareen.
“The idea is also on the return to destroyed villages, which is getting more awareness,” he said.
“About one-quarter of our community is internally displaced persons, and are denied the right to return to these lands and villages,” said Jabareen.
The Hadash MK noted that the protest “to defend our rights was peaceful.”
A handful of what appeared to be Israeli Jews, some journalists and others involved with left-wing organizations, also were present and could easily be picked out of the crowd.
An Arab woman who works at an Israeli university and did not want to be identified by name, said that while many countries in the world have acknowledged displaced peoples, Israel “is in denial of the Nakba.”
Amichai Yogev, southern director of the NGO Regavim – describing itself as seeking to ensure a responsible, legal and accountable use of the country’s land – told the Post
, “This was a badge of shame to the police that enabled a protest against the state on Independence Day.
“The fact that many buses brought Arabs from the North indicates there is not enough Beduin who are willing to go against the state and thus they had to bring reinforcements from the North,” he added.