14 May 2009
Thousands of Palestinians on Thursday marked the 61st anniversary of the Naqba, the “catastrophe” that sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees after Israel was created in 1948.
Holding Palestinian flags and photos of Arab villages razed by Israeli forces six decades ago, demonstrators marched in the centre of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“The right of return is sacred”, “No peace without the right of return”, read the banners held by the marchers.
The ceremonies took place a day early because the May 15 anniversary of the Naqba falls this year on a Friday, a day off in the mostly Muslim Palestinian territories.
The demonstration was headed by political figures and religious leaders and began at the tomb of legendary Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat at the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, today run by his successor, president Mahmud Abbas.
In the northern West Bank town of Nablus, about 2,000 people participated in a march, holding Palestinian flags tied with black ribbons as a sign of mourning.
In Aqabet Jaber refugee camp, in the oasis town of Jericho, participants unveiled a statue featuring a six-metre (20-foot) metallic key, symbolising the refugees’ attachment to the houses from which they fled or were forced out in 1948.
Around 700,000 people were exiled in this way in 1948, with the United Nations estimating that today they and their decendants number 4.6 million.
The Israeli army said in a statement that it was sealing off the occupied West Bank from midnight on Thursday until Saturday evening for the Naqba.