Palestinians mark national catastrophe

No one can legally deny the right of return to Palestinian refugees who have been driven out of their homes by Jewish forces, says the Palestinian president.

    Millions of Palestinian refugees live in appalling conditions

    Yasir Arafat was speaking as thousands of Palestinians marched on Saturday to mark the "Nakba", or catastrophe, of Israel's creation in 1948.

    In a televised address, Arafat said Israel could not turn a

    blind eye to the suffering caused when it came into being.

    "Israel cannot ignore its moral and political responsibility for

    this national tragedy which has hurt the Palestinian refugees," he

    said.

    "The Palestinian refugees' right of return is a holy right

    confirmed by international law. It is not right that anybody in the

    world deny the right of the refugees to return to their homes."

    Right of return

    Thousands of Palestinians took to the

    streets across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to mark the day, waving flags and carrying

    large keys in memory of the Nakba.

    "Israel cannot ignore its moral and political responsibility for

    this national tragedy which has hurt the Palestinian refugees.

    The Palestinian refugees' right of return is a holy right

    confirmed by international law

    "

    Yasir Arafat,
    Palestinian president

    In the West Bank city of Ram Allah, more than 2500 people flocked to

    the centre, waving flags and chanting "No peace, no stability

    without the right of return".

    Hundreds of children held up placards bearing the names of

    Palestinian villages, now inside Israel, from which their families

    originated before the crowd held a moment's silence in memory of the

    events of 1948.

    In the northern city of Nablus, about 5000 demonstrators burned

    a cardboard model of an Israeli tank, along with life-sized effigies

    of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, US President George Bush

    and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    "We say 'no' to all projects that deny the right of return,"

    they shouted, referring to Bush's endorsement of an Israeli plan to

    withdraw from Gaza.

    Stolen land

    The plan also saw the US leader effectively ruling

    out the Palestinians' right to return to land that was theirs before

    1948.

    Israeli PM Sharon plans to deny
    the Palestinians right of return 

    Another 3000 demonstrators gathered in the northern city of

    Qalqilya and a similar number was reported to be gathering in Tulkaram,

    Palestinian security officials said.

    In the southern West Bank, nearly 1000 demonstrators gathered

    in Bethlehem and another 200 were seen in central Hebron, shouting

    and waving flags.

    And in Gaza, about 10,000 demonstrators flocked to the Palestinian

    Legislative Council headquarters, waving pictures of Arafat and

    holding up ageing keys of what used to be their homes before Israel

     was created.

    "We will return to our land," they shouted.

    Across the Middle East

    Palestinians across the Middle East also marked the occasion. In Lebanon's largest refugee camp, Ain al-Hilwa, some 10,000 Palestinians marched through the narrow alleys chanting "Death to Israel, Death to America!" 

    "We call upon the government to end
    all kinds of dealing
    with the Zionist enemy and hosting Israeli officials and citizens
    in our country"

    Hamzah Mansur,
    one of the demonstrators

    In Jordan, about 1000 political advocates called on the Jordanian government to expel Israeli diplomats and cut relations with Israel.

    The Muslim Brotherhood Movement, Jordan's largest opposition group, and 14 smaller political groups organised a peaceful one-kilometre (0.6 miles) march to the United Nations building in the west of Amman.

    "We call upon the government to end all kinds of dealing with the Zionist enemy and hosting Israeli officials and citizens in our country," Hamzah Mansur, one of the demonstrators, said in a brief speech.

    In Damascus, Syria, some 100 Syrians and Palestinians protested al- Nakba with a sit-in outside the offices of the European Union Commission.  

    Palestinian suffering

    Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes when Jewish forces invaded their land just before the creation

     of Israel in 1948.

    Those who stayed in their villages in the face of massacres and

     threats

     are

    now described as Israeli Arabs, but the majority became refugees in

    the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighbouring Arab countries.

    It is estimated there are more than four million Palestinian refugees

    in the world.

    Most of them live in appalling conditions in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, while the Israelis who are now living in their homes enjoy first-world standards of living.

    The Jews who stole their land claimed Israel was the

    birthplace of the Jewish people and that they had reclaimed their birthright

    after 2000 years of forced exile.

    Israelis are overwhelmingly against a mass right of return because they fear it would result in a Palestinian majority in Israel.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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