Hundreds hold first-ever Nakba Day march in Jaffa

Organizers say event inspired by passing of 'Nakba law' in March, and recent upheaval in the Middle East.

By
May 14, 2011 20:29
3 minute read.
Nakba Day protest in Jaffa

Jaffa Nakba Day 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Hundreds marched in Jaffa on Saturday in the first-ever public “Nakba” commemoration held there.

Waving signs and chanting for Palestinian and pan-Arab solidarity, the mainly young crowd marched down Rehov Yerushalayim to a park in the Ajami neighborhood, where a rally was held ahead of a concert by the Lod-based Arab-Israeli hip-hop group DAM.

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The rally was organized by the Youth of Jaffa group, with the support of other youth-based groups from Arab areas of Lod, Ramle, Haifa, Acre and elsewhere in the country. While the chants were loud, the march was laid-back and orderly.

There was a very small police presence and no counter-protesters to speak of.

Organizers said the march was largely inspired by the “Arab Spring” in the region, as well as by the Knesset’s approval of the so-called “Nakba Law” in March, which allows the government to fine local authorities that use state money to commemorate of the creation of Israel in 1948 as a “catastrophe.”

Ramy Sayegh, a local activist, said, “Jaffa is the heart of the conflict. When Jaffa fell [during the War of Independence], all the other cities fell. So it is the symbol of the fall of the Palestinian cities and towns. It was the unofficial capital of Palestine.”

Sayegh said teaching the younger generation about the “Nakba” was difficult because of the way it was downplayed or dismissed by Israeli authorities and kept out of the classroom.

“Teaching the Nakba depends on the parents, we don’t have schools that will allow the teaching of the Nakba. So they don’t have anywhere to learn it. They have to learn it at home or in other informal ways.”

One of the organizers of the demonstration, 23-year-old Jaffa resident Abed Abu Shehada, said that “in Jaffa, the Nakba never ended. In Palestine in general it never ended, but especially in Jaffa. For the past 63 years, there’s house demolishing, illegal political arrests, police violence, families taken out of their homes. From 1948 until today it didn’t change.”

Like others at the march, Abu Shehada spoke largely about the hardships he and others said were now being suffered by the Arab residents of Jaffa. These included soaring housing prices, the increasing difficulty of paying to get married or start a family, police violence, rising crime, and the rapid gentrification of the area, all of which they said was, in one way or another, a continuation of what began in 1948.

Abu Shehada termed the situation in the Arab neighborhoods today part of the legacy of the “Nakba,” during which “Jaffa went from being one of the most important cities in the Middle East to being a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv...

“And the situation here is just going from bad to worse. There’s police violence in everyday life, settlements inside Arab neighborhoods in Jaffa, and the right wing holds demonstrations inside Jaffa. We are here to say Jaffa is still Arab and is still part of Palestine, and we are still Palestinians.”

Abu Shehada said that organizers and the marchers had drawn great inspiration from the recent upheavals in the Middle East.

“From the youth movement point of view, we’re very inspired by what is happening in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Bahrain, because it’s the youth. And it’s the youth’s job because we see that the elderly have had enough and they’re tired, so it’s up to us to lead the demonstration, to lead the national movement.”

Jewish passersby didn’t seem very taken aback by the demonstration.

Ariel Gutman, a middle-aged Rishon Lezion resident who had parked his car nearby and happened to come across the demonstration with his wife, said, “It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s democracy, and it’s their right to say whatever they want, as long as it’s peaceful.”

Uri, a Jewish resident sitting at a nearby café, echoed the sentiment, saying that while he was surprised by the number of Jews taking part in the march, “it’s not a problem for me. At the end of the day they’re right, there has to be a Palestinian state.

The [Palestinian] flag doesn’t bother me either.

“Besides, this is one of our basic rights – to demonstrate – and as long as it’s nonviolent, I don’t have any problem with it,” Uri said.


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