It has been quite some time since I have swelled with pride at a collective act from my people. Yesterday, May 15, I was reminded of how it feels to burst with emotion and awe at the Palestinians. Yesterday, the day all Palestinians commemorate Al Nakba – the 1948 Catastrophe – throngs of Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians and Lebanese took to the streets, marched on the borders with Israel and demanded their right of return. In Ramallah, thousands of people raised Palestinian flags, held symbolic keys to the homes from which they were expelled in that fateful year and chanted promises to never forget. In Hebron, black balloons were flown to mark the disaster which befell some 800,000 Palestinians during Al Nakba when they fled or were driven out of their homes and villages and never allowed back.
It has been a long time coming. Israel has never recognized the injustice it caused the Palestinian people upon its own creation. On the contrary, it has excluded the refugee issue from any real negotiations and pushed it aside into that black hole called “final status issues.” Instead, Israel would rather we forget; sweep the monumental collective crime under the carpet of oblivion so it can continue to build its lie around its own establishment. “A land without a people for a people without a land”, was the mantra of early Zionists in their justification for usurping Palestine. Yesterday, on our day of remembrance, we reminded ourselves and the world that this is one of history’s most dangerous and cruel falsities; that there were people on this land who had lives, homes, a past and dreams of a future.
Schoolchildren out in the streets to take part in the marches, carried signs with the names of their original villages held high above their heads. “I am from Majdal,” “I am from Haifa” the placards read, pointing to villages and cities visible only in their minds’ eye because they have never been able to return. At Qalandiya checkpoint, young men, women and children faced down heavily armed Israeli soldiers who cowered behind their jeeps, their protective shields their automatic machine guns, shooting up clouds of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and finally live ammunition.
But the most moving scene by far was of Palestinian refugees living in the squalid camps of Syria and Lebanon marching on the barbwire borders with Israel, Palestinian flags raised high above their heads. In Majdal Shams in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, throngs of Palestinians and Syrians breached the border, hugging and kissing their occupied Syrian compatriots from whom they have been separated for 30 years. “Long live Palestine!” they yelled as they embraced. “Welcome home,” others cried. “You are free.”
The day was not without losses though. At the Lebanese border town of Maron Al Ras, 10 people were killed when Israel opened fire at Palestinians trying to cross over. In the Golan Heights, two people were shot and killed. One Palestinian was killed at the Erez Crossing into the Gaza Strip during yesterday’s marches and hundreds were injured in clashes in the West Bank. For those who lost their loved ones or for others who lie in hospital beds with gunshot wounds or sit in one of Israel’s prison cells, we pay tribute and offer our utmost respect.
Still, the day was victorious. Perhaps it was the effect of the Arab Spring, perhaps it was the reconciliation deal signed between Hamas and Fateh or perhaps it was just the accumulation of one too many years of waiting. For whatever reason, all these factors came together in one surge of people power, one voice of determination to never be forgotten. It was a moment, a day of pride for us all. And it was validation that Palestine’s refugees, the usurped homes and land and the years of exile will be forever etched in each and every Palestinian soul until the day comes when this huge injustice is finally rectified.