“Our Palestinian people have carried in pain the memory, and hope to return to their homeland.”
Black balloons were released by Palestinians in the West Bank and by Palestinian refugees in other areas of the world to mark the day. In the West Bank 21,195 balloons were released – one for every day of the Nakba.
Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the West Bank, reported that there were clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers manning the Qalandiya checkpoint on Thursday.
“[The soldiers] responded to stones being thrown in their direction by firing rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas,” she reported.
The youths had marched from Ramallah to the checkpoint to commemorate the 60 years of dispossession.
“It was tense, but now the clashes have ended. [The checkpoint] is a permanent friction point between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.
“It represents the ongoing occupation or expropriation of Palestinian land through the separation wall, which blocks their hope of having a contiguous and viable state any time in the future.”
Bush in Israel
George Bush, the US president, was also in the region to mark the anniversary of the creation of Israel.
In an address to the Israeli Knesset on Thursday, the US president vowed America “stands with” Israel in its fight against “terror”.
“America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary,” he said.
“Israel’s population may be just over seven million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you.”
He did not make reference to the Palestinians, but did take the opportunity to take aim at Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the Palestinian faction in control of the Gaza Strip.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior analyst, said Bush’s speech had done little to further peace negotiations.
“What we had from the US president today was a speech that is more retributive than restorative … we heard very little about Palestinian rights or how to restore peace.”
Bush’s speech to the Knesset came a day after rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit a medical clinic in an Israeli shopping mall in the city of Ashkelon, wounding 14 people.
Israeli officials said the Grad rocket that hit the coastal city was made in Iran.
The Israeli government has been coming under increasing pressure to oust Hamas from Gaza following a recent increase in rocket fire.
Following talks with Bush on Wednesday, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, stressed that Israel would hold Hamas responsible for any attack and would “take the necessary steps so that this will stop”.
|Arab and Jewish students released black
balloons in Jerusalem to mark the Nakba [AFP]
David Chater, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Jerusalem, said there was growing pressure within Israel for a military operation into Gaza.
“Everyone is beginning to think that the siege of the Gaza Strip is no longer working, that those rockets are still coming out and still causing injuries amongst innocent civilians in Israel,” Chater reported.
“There’s now a huge effort amongst politicians and indeed a conviction within the Israeli defence establishment that a large operation will have to be mounted.”
Bush’s visit to the region is also intended to advance US-backed talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but there have been few signs of progress in the negotiations since promises were made at a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November.
The process has also recently been overshadowed by calls for Olmert to resign over a police investigation into bribery allegations.
As part of his visit to Israel, Bush on Thursday toured the Roman-era desert fortress of Masada, a national symbol in Israel as many believe that during a rebellion in 70AD Jews besieged in the hilltop position chose to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Romans.