Thousands of Palestinians mark 65 years since displacement

RAMALLAH, West Bank Wed May 15, 2013 4:37pm EDT

1 of 10. A Palestinian man is taken away by Israeli border policemen during clashes near Damascus Gate at Jerusalem's old city May 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday during demonstrations to mark 65 years since what they call the Nakba (Catastrophe) when the creation of Israel's caused many to lose their homes and become refugees.

A shell fired from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas, exploded in an open area of Israel but caused no injuries, according to an Israeli military spokesman. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to return to the region on Tuesday in another bid to revive peace talks frozen since 2010.

But a resolution remains elusive and many Palestinians want refugees and their descendants to return to lands now in Israel - an idea Israel rejects, saying it would spell the end of the Jewish state.

Protesters skirmished with Israeli forces outside a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Hebron and at a prison near Ramallah. Several Palestinians were injured.

Israeli police in Jerusalem scuffled with Palestinian protesters, tossing stun grenades and making several arrests.

Thousands also rallied in the main square of Ramallah, the Palestinians' de facto capital while Jerusalem remains under Israeli control, holding up placards with the names of villages depopulated in 1948 and old keys, symbols of lost homes.

"For the sake of my future and to return to my family's land, I don't want any more useless negotiations but the path of resistance and the rifle," said Ahmed al-Bedu, a gangly 15-year-old Palestinian who holds Jordanian citizenship.

Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948 on the eve of the end of British rule over Palestine, and neighboring Arab armies invaded in a sharp escalation of fighting already raging between Jews and local Arabs. Five months earlier, the United Nations had adopted a plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, a blueprint rejected by Arabs.

5.3 MILLION REGISTERED REFUGEES

Many Arab residents fled or were expelled by force from their homes and prevented from returning. Only Jordan, which now has a peace treaty with Israel, gave the refugees citizenship.

According to official Palestinian figures published this week, 5.3 million Palestinians - almost half of their total number in the world - are registered by the United Nations as refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

Many of them live in the concrete warrens of overcrowded camps, with poor access to employment and basic services.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and himself a refugee from a town now in northern Israel, stoked Palestinian outrage last year by telling an Israeli news channel he did not seek to return home.

Saeb Erekat, Abbas's top negotiator with Israel, said on Wednesday that sectarian conflicts in Syria and Iraq endangered Palestinians there and that Israel's "refusal to assume responsibility for the refugee question" and to agree on a "just solution" for them was harming prospects for peace.

The Palestinian Authority seeks an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital - all lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel deems Jerusalem its "eternal and indivisible" capital.

Hamas rejects Israel's existence and refuses to renounce violence against it, saying a return of refugees can be attained only through armed force.

"Any initiatives and solutions that do not secure the return of our full rights will be rejected by our people. Our holy land is not for sale or bargain," the group said in a statement.

"Resistance by all its forms, and foremost armed resistance, will remain our way to extract our rights."

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Robin Pomeroy)

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Comments (49)
COindependent wrote:
Palestinian displacement is not exclusively a phenomenon of the creation of Israel. If one makes any effort to review history as the British withdrew from the middle east, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the Saudi’s refused to absorb the Palestinians (of which there was never a specific country of “Palestine”).

The author’s espouses that the Palestinians are victims, with no responsibility whatsover for their continuing status. Nothing is further from the truth–but after 65 years it’s a great story–especially when one considers the freedoms and mobility that Arabs living in Israel enjoy. The Palestinian “leadership” of the PLO and Hamas (and their sponsors) have failed their constituency by focusing on the “destruction of Israel”, versus economic development. Their actions have served only to consolidate the power and wealth within a selected group of individuals. How does any Palestinian rationalize that Yassar Arafat died a multi-billionaire with assets distributed internationally while “his people” lived like refugees?

It’s obvious that when the objectives of the leadership are not focused on improving the economic well-being of the population, having a perpetual enemy is a great distraction. It’s a proven tactic of the incompetent (see Iran, North Korea). Think about it–65 years and nothing has changed inside Gaza, except continuing to blame Israel.

May 15, 2013 9:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
boreal wrote:
65 years is about a generation. Remarkable double standard. Jews from all over the world are invited and welcome to move to Israeli stolen lands. Arab refugees who were forced off of recently from their ancestors’ lands are forbidden to return.

May 15, 2013 10:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
NougatCenter wrote:
CO and IslamBlows – excellent analyses…. and shame on Reuters for such a biased piece – yet again. Must I remind the readers there are 44 conflicts around the world between Muslims and non-Muslims, regardless of what nationality these non-Muslims are, or what language they speak, what passport they hold, or what region of the world they live in. 44 conflicts. Look what’s happening in Djibouti. Look what’s happening in Chad, what’s happening in Mauritania. Americans don’t even look at these countries. It’s not even on our radar screen.

I got yer Nakba right here . . .

May 15, 2013 10:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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