Monday, May 25, 2020

Thousands congregate for Palestinian March of Return in Khubeiza

By Felix Black - April 22, 2013
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Palestinian citizens of Israel] [UN Resolution 194] [Khubeiza] [right of return march]

Photo by Felix Black.

In what was the biggest congregation of Palestinians for the March of Return to date, approximately 7,000 Palestinians marched to the destroyed Arab village of Khubeiza during Israel’s “Independence Day” on Tuesday, April 16. 

The march has occurred every year since 1998, with each event taking place at a different location in Palestinian 1948 territories. It is aimed at not only to educate and bring together generations of Palestinians, but to also show to the world that the Israeli Independence Day coincides with anniversaries of the destruction of Arab villages during the Nakba, in which 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed prior to the formation of the state of Israel. The march is deliberately organised to take place on Israeli Independence Day, which changes dates due to differences between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. 

The village of Khubeiza, located 40 kilometers southeast of Haifa, was destroyed by the Jewish Haganah units using dynamite in 1948. The residents, some 350 people, fled to refugee camps in Jenin or Jordan, whilst some tried to re-settle within the newly established Israeli state. 

The march crossed the old village remains, spanning two large fields. It ended with an hour-long gathering in which food was handed out, Palestinian literature sold, and stalls providing arts-and-crafts opportunities for children, just as guest speakers talked at length about the implementation of UN resolution 194 and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. During the course of the event, groups of young men on horseback challenged one another to take part in races across the village’s land, often brandishing the Palestinian flag as they competed. At the end of the rally, music burst out of the speakers and the 1,000-strong group of young men and women at the front of the rally began several impromptu circles of dabke dancing and loud singing. 

“Who says the youth are apathetic to their situation and Palestinian national unity in general,” remarked Yossi Schwartz, a Jewish-Palestinian activist from Jerusalem. “The evidence in front of us right now shows the complete contrary.”

There were certainly grounds for optimism given the passionate rally-like response from the crowd as the speeches were being made. 

There was also a significant amount of anti-PA and anti-Mahmoud Abbas rhetoric coming from the speakers, and chanting from the crowd. Unlike in the West Bank, there was an obvious free nature to express such political views publically, mainly due to the lack of preying authorities. There was a tremendous amount of unity in general at the march, albeit with the exception of half a dozen Syrian flags being waved in support of the Assad regime, much to the annoyance of the organisers and condemnation of many of the crowd members. 

The village of Khubeiza, located 40 kilometers southeast of Haifa, was destroyed by the Jewish Haganah units using dynamite in 1948

The festival ended with a resounding and moving performance of “Mawatani” or “My Homeland,” the Palestinian National Anthem, in which the 7,000-strong crowd rose to their feet and recited the lyrics in proud unison. 

The event was organised by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and the Association for the Defence of the Rights of the Displaced Persons. According to Palestinian lawyer Meissa Irshaid, who works for the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, “They organise this every year, and every year it gets bigger. Firstly more people start to hear more about it, and secondly, it then becomes tradition. It is an educational march, for families, the old and the young.”

The cross-generational ethos of the march, and the subsequent festival, portrayed a microcosm of Palestinian life. Grandfathers and grandmothers re-told the stories of the Nakba, the children listened, the young men and women danced to traditional songs, and the parents smoked nargilah and drank coffee whilst watching the whole scene unfold. It was clear that the importance of the march was not to bring un-wanted attention from Israeli authorities, but to bring everyone together and ground national memories to form new memories, and thus continue the struggle against the occupying forces. 

A group of roughly 50 Jewish-Israeli counter-demonstrators had set up a picnic area on the entrance to the site, accompanied by a small police attaché, but the two groups never crossed paths directly and there were no signs of aggression. It was more of a symbolic retort. If a similar Palestinian event had taken place in the West Bank, albeit unlikely given the organisational and logistical constraints, tear gas, plastic-coated lead bullets and possibly live ammunition from the Israeli soldiers stationed there would undoubtedly have met it.

At the same time as the march, nearly 1,000,000 Jewish-Israelis took part in the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Independence of Israel by pouring into national Parks and inner city public spaces. One in every five cars had an Israeli flag positioned somewhere on the chassis, and numerous houses had been draped with the blue and white national colours. Counter-demonstrations took part in Jerusalem and at one point a Palestinian flag was hoisted on the ramparts of Damascus Gate, only to be swiftly removed by the Israeli authorities. 

The Right of Return March will not be given international media recognition, despite the tragedy it represents. Israeli Independence Day has already been given the spotlight from world media, who often skate nervously around the discussion of the Nakba, if at all, and the current cultural and political genocide of Palestinians in Palestine 1948, the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora communities across the globe. The march represents everything that nobody else wishes to discuss, and it will continue for many years to come, hopefully growing every time.

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