(JTA) — Thousands of Israeli Arabs, including several Knesset members, demonstrated in favor of the Palestinian right of return, the first time such an event took place in the Negev.
Wednesday’s demonstration came on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, a date when Arab citizens of Israel mourn the plight of the more than 700,000 Arabs who lost their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians also mark their losses on Nakba Day, which falls on May 15. Nakba is Arabic for “catastrophe.”
According to Haaretz, Wednesday’s rally near the Bedouin town of Rahat attracted thousands of people displaced from their original villages in Israel’s War of Independence. Several Arab lawmakers and leaders of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which Haaretz described as the “unofficial leadership of the Israeli Arab community,” also attended.
“Recognizing the Nakba, this terrible crime, and working to correct the injustice is the only path to true reconciliation between the two peoples,” Knesset member Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint Arab List party, said at the demonstration.
The rally, where some people waved Palestinian flags, included a mass vow to support Bedouins at risk of being uprooted from unauthorized villages and to continue pressing for a Palestinian “right of return,” the idea that the descendants of all the original refugees be allowed to resettle in Israel. The right of return has been a sticking point in numerous Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as Israel has argued that it would mean Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.
“What happened in the Nakba was a crime of slaughter and displacement, and it’s impossible to correct this injustice without ensuring the right of return,” said Mohammed Barakeh, head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee. “What’s happening today is clear. Israel is degenerating into an apartheid state, but still, the world praises Israeli democracy.”