Palestinians take to streets for Nakba Day

Three Border Police, one IDF soldier, 270 Palestinians lightly injured; Fayyad says no compromise on right of return.

Palestinian throws stone at Beitunia Nakba Day protest 370 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
Palestinian throws stone at Beitunia Nakba Day protest 370 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
One soldier, three border policemen and 270 Palestinians were lightly hurt in clashes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem Tuesday as Palestinians marked the 64th anniversary of the “Nakba,” meaning “catastrophe,” which refers to their loss to Israel in 1948.

The violence, which occurred mostly in two spots on the outskirts of Ramallah, near the Kalandiya crossing and in Beitunya by the Ofer Prison, was not felt inside the city.Hundreds gathered in Martyr Yasser Arafat Square for a midday rally. The event mixed the sorrow of historical memory, the desire for nationalism, and happiness over Monday night’s end to the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike.
Children marched into the square beating drums and wearing black T-shirts that read “1948.” Demonstrators carried black flags in mourning for the destruction of their homes and villages.Some held Arabic signs with the names of the villages. They also held posters of Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Sa’adat, the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine whom Israel jailed for ordering the 2001 assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.Family members of jailed prisoners sat in the protest tests set up in the square. A large blue mock jail cell stood nearby.Representatives of the Palestinian Authority, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, led the rally in Ramallah as sirens sounded for 64 seconds to mark the day. Clapping and dancing briefly followed before speakers took the stage.“The right of return is sacred and cannot be compromised,” Fayyad told the crowd. He also stressed the need for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lines.Wasel Abu Yusef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that the “right of return” remained the essence of the Palestinian cause. He said that the rights of the refugees did not go away with the passing of time.At the end of the rally, black balloons were released into the air. Though some of them flew up to the sky, the wind blew many of them under the cloth canopy set up over the stage.Music blared from loudspeakers in the square as the rally dispersed.In contrast, on the outskirts of the city, one soldier and three border policemen were lightly wounded after rocks hit them during demonstrations at the Kalandiya crossing and near Beitunya. Five Molotov cocktails were thrown at the policemen near Beitunya, and police bomb squads destroyed an explosive device.In Beitunya, near Ofer Prison, clashes continued into the late afternoon. Demonstrators filled the paved road leading toward the prison. While many simply milled about, a group of teens and young adults, many with keffiyehs over their faces or around their necks, engaged the security forces by throwing rocks and pushing burning tires in their direction. At times, black smoke billowed into the air.The IDF and Border Police responded by shooting rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets.The tear gas canisters made white streaks in the air before landing in clouds of smoke that sent protesters running. But within minutes, they returned. In some cases, demonstrators threw themselves on the ground, overcome by the gas, as medics treated them and lifted them in waiting ambulances.
In a field off to the side, some teens threw rocks at a small group of soldiers, while demonstrators and reporters watched from a gas station parking lot.Near Ni’lin, some 30 demonstrators gathered and tried to break through a nearby IDF checkpoint. The army detained two demonstrators. Several dozen people also protested near Bethlehem and Hebron.Earlier Tuesday morning, Palestinians threw stones at Israelis praying at Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. Police dispersed the attackers. There were no injuries in the attack.At a checkpoint near Hebron, Palestinians hurled stones at security forces. IDF soldiers and Border Police dispersed the riots, and no damages or injuries were reported.In Nablus, events unfolded peacefully as hundreds of Palestinians marched toward the offices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), chanting slogans in favor of the “right of return.” Representatives of the protesters delivered a letter to the UNRWA heads urging them not to cut their aid to the refugees and to support their struggle to return to their former villages.Nablus governor Jabareen al- Bakri said that the Palestinians had been waiting for 64 years for the international community to implement UN resolution 194, which, he claimed, calls for compensating Palestinian refugees and returning them to their homes.Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip also took to the streets to participate in rallies and marches marking the day.East Jerusalem was mostly quiet on Tuesday, with the exception of clashes in the Isawiya neighborhood, near The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Five people, including one youth, were arrested in an early morning operation.A number of children, some as young as five, hurled stones at security forces for hours after the arrests. There were no casualties.About 150 people protested peacefully outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate on Tuesday evening, chanting, “We sacrifice our lives and souls for Palestine,” and “We are all the prisoners,” referring to the hunger-striking prisoners who ended their strike on Monday. The mostly young protesters, many holding cardboard keys, briefly surrounded an Egged bus on its way to The Hebrew University, but there was no violence.“We came here to show Israel and everyone that we will never, ever forget Palestine, the whole Palestine,” said Shahd, a 22-yearold chemistry student at Al-Quds University. Shahd said that while she was disappointed by the lack of international protests compared with last year’s Nakba Day, she understood that many of the Arab countries were dealing with their own upheavals.“We are disappointed, but there’s a revolution,” she said. “All of the focus is on the prisoners… [they made] a victory for all of us and for all Palestinians around the world.”Palestinian sources said at least 270 people were hurt in the various demonstrations, mostly from tear gas inhalation.Outside of the West Bank and Gaza, Nakba Day protests in the Arab world were relatively muted.In Lebanon, a smattering of Palestinians and members of the ruling Future Movement demonstrated outside UN headquarters in Beirut.Plans for a rally in Cairo apparently did not materialize. Still, Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh praised Palestinians incarcerated in Israel who had waged the weeks-long hunger strike demanding better prison conditions.“We congratulate our brothers the Palestinian prisoners in the jails of the Zionist occupation for their steadfastness in their victory over the enemy in the battle of the empty gut,” he said. “We support the continued struggle to meet all their human rights, and... to defend themselves and wage resistance against the occupation.”He said Egypt had changed since the days of president Hosni Mubarak, when it was “a military ally of the United States and a strategic treasure for the Zionist entity.”The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper quoted the candidate as saying Israel had been founded on “ethnic cleansing and apartheid”: “For 64 years the Zionist entity has only been a model for blatant discrimination between people on the basis of religion and race, and on the denial of democracy.”Abol Fotouh – a former top Muslim Brotherhood official who, along with ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa, is one of the most likely candidates to replace Mubarak – said he fully supported the Palestinian “right of return” to land now in Israel.“We support... the right to return to homes and villages from which they were forcibly displaced – in Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Ramle and other parts of Palestine,” he said.Melanie Lidman, Oren Kessler, Yaakov Katz, Yaakov Lapin and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.