An estimated eight million Palestinians at home and in the Diaspora observed on 15 May the 53rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, when Zionist Jews seized Palestine and expulsed the bulk of its people from their ancestral homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, young and old, men and women, marched in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, carrying placards and shouting slogans affirming the right of return for some four million Palestinian refugees eager to return to their native hometowns and villages in what is now Israel.
“No right of return, no peace,” read one large placard in Ramallah. “Denial of right of return means victory for racism and apartheid,” read another.
At noon local time, as sirens blared, Palestinians observed three minutes of silence during which verses from the Holy Qur’an were recited in honor of the more than 200,000 Palestinians who have lost their lives defending their country.
Afterwards, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat delivered a passionate speech, carried live on radio and television, castigating Israel for trying to “kill justice with tanks, rockets and helicopter gunships.” He criticized the international community for its “hypocrisy, double standards and silence in face of overwhelming oppression of Palestinians.”
“They are trying to falsify history and kill justice with artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships, but they shall not succeed, for we have the truth on our side, and justice shall eventually prevail.” The Palestinian leader appealed to the world community to “wake up from its enduring dormancy to see the wanton acts of murder and destruction being perpetrated against our people.”
He asked bitterly: “Don’t our people have the right to be free like the rest of humanity?”
Arafat stressed that a just and durable peace in the region would not be achieved without total Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967, including Al-Quds Al-Sharif, or East Jerusalem, as well as the implementation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194.
Arafat then appealed to Palestinians to withstand Israeli oppression and persecution. “Have you faith and more faith, patience and more patience, an hour’s extra patience could make the difference between victory and defeat,” Arafat said, quoting one of Prophet Mohamed’s hadiths (sayings).
Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, speaking briefly after Arafat, said the “makers of the Nakba have failed to break our will,” arguing that “the Intifada of yesterday, today and tomorrow is a sublime expression of rejection of modern-day slavery.”
Israel responded to the largely peaceful demonstrations and marches with the habitual rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition. Indeed, trigger-happy Israeli soldiers opened fire, often indiscriminately, on demonstrators in Hebron, Ramallah, Tulkarm and Nablus, injuring as many as a hundred people, including minors and children.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli army bullets killed two more Palestinians, one of them, 35-year-old Abdul Hakim Al-Mana’amah, an associate of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yasin.
Earlier, the Israeli occupation army carried out some of the most barbaric acts of state sponsored-terrorism against unprotected Palestinian civilians and the lightly armed Palestinian police force. At 2am on 14 May, an Israeli force murdered, in cold blood, five Palestinian policemen at a guard-post near Beitunya, south of Ramallah. Palestinians viewed the killing as an especially treacherous act, as the five victims were assigned to liaison with their Israeli security counterparts in the area.
“This is a vile and unethical crime and Israel will not get away with it,” said an angry Arafat, pointing out that the victims’ guard-post was established in coordination with the Israeli army.
Haj Ismael Jaber, commander of the Palestinian Authority (PA) police force in the West Bank, stressed the perfidious nature of the Israeli attack. “The whole thing was unexpected, it never occurred to us that the Israelis would murder the very people with whom they liaison and coordinate on a daily basis.” He added indignantly, “This is a massacre, a real massacre, except in this case, policemen are killed.”
The Israeli army did not comment on the incident, underscoring the almost total callousness toward the Palestinians. A terse statement carried by Israeli state-run radio only spoke of Israeli occupation soldiers spotting moving objects south of Ramallah, opening fire and killing them.
The Israeli army killed two more Gazans — and injured 20 others, among them a child who sustained serious wounds — on 14 May when it barraged Rafah with machine-gun and artillery fire. The murder of the seven Gazans in Betunya and Gaza came only a few hours after Israeli tanks, helicopter gunships and navy gunboats pounded several neighborhoods throughout the strip, injuring many civilians and causing widespread destruction.
Earlier this week, on 12 May, Israeli helicopters fired several missiles at a car outside PA headquarters in Jenin, killing two Palestinians, a Fatah activist and a policemen.
The two men killed, who were not the intended targets of the assassination operation, join 50 other Palestinians murdered by the Israeli army in a manner reflecting both Israel’s technological edge and its arrogance.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army continues to destroy vast stretches of Palestinian orchards and vineyards on a daily basis. In an article published on 13 May in London’s Observer newspaper, Lord Ian Gilmour, who toured the Gaza Strip recently, referred to this wanton and widespread vandalism: “Israelis used to boast that they had made the desert bloom, now they can boast they have turned previously blooming Palestinian land into a desert.”