Thousands gather to mark 75 years of Nakba

Thousands gather to mark 75 years of Nakba

On the anniversary of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their land, we speak to those protesting in London about the continued fight for justice and freedom.

On a cloudy day in London, over 10,000 protestors made their way from the BBC headquarters to Downing Street amid a sea of Palestinian flags. Chants of “One, two, three, four, occupation no more”, “Free, free Palestine” and “We want boycotts, we want sanctions” filled the streets as those in attendance also held keys representing the right of Palestinians to return to their homes under international law.

Protestors were there to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’) – the violent expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes and the destruction of 500 villages and towns. During their so-called ‘War of Independence’, Zionist military forces captured 78% of historic Palestine, dividing the remaining 22% into what is now the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As demonstrators often pointed out, the Nakba is not an event that simply took place 75 years ago, but an ongoing process of ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians – more of an open wound than a scar.

The protests on Saturday (13 May) took place following a recent escalation in Israeli violence. Last week, Israeli air strikes killed at least 33 Palestinians in Gaza, with retaliatory rockets from Gaza killing two people in Israel. “It’s no coincidence that in the same week that we are marking 75 years since the Nakba, Israel is targeting family homes and killing Palestinian children in Gaza,” said Shamiul Jordon, Head of Public affairs at Friends of Al-Asqa (FoA), the organisation who co-organised the demonstration. “This is exactly what the ongoing Nakba looks like.” A ceasefire was called on Saturday, but for Gazans living in the open air prison there will be no “return to calm,” as it is often framed by the mainstream media, until Israel ceases its occupation.

Those at the demonstration asserted that Israel has systematically denied the Nakba, banning public references to it and hiding evidence of the events of 1948. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, infamously said about Palestinians: “The old will die and the young will forget.”

The Israeli state prohibits Palestinian citizens from commemorating the Nakba in public ceremonies. Despite efforts to rewrite the past, the demonstration on Saturday made clear that the diaspora community has, and will continue to, raise its voice about the ongoing Nakba. Speaking to the crowds outside Downing Street, Leanne Mohammad, a 22-year-old Palestinian activist, said: “They said as time went on, that people would stop caring. They were wrong. For 75 years we have lived in exile and endured family trauma, but we will never forget our roots or the right to return.”

Calls for recognition of the Nakba are only growing louder. Today (15 May), on what is officially known as Nakba Day, the United Nations will stage a high-level special meeting to recognise the anniversary – the first time the international body has commemorated the date. Last week, US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib introduced a resolution, put forward in the US House of Representatives, to recognise the Nakba – a measure which comes amid a growing push by US progressives to advance Palestinian rights and restrict US aid to Israel.

Throughout the demonstration, there were calls for the British government to recognise its complicity in the Nakba and to end its support of Israeli apartheid. “Britain [has been] instrumental in creating the State of Israel, the process of the Nakba and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians,” said Ismail Patel, the founder of FoA, explaining the significance of the decision to begin the march outside the BBC. “The British government and institutions, particularly the BBC, must start to recognise the role we play in the displacement of the Palestinian people.”

Patel continued: “One of the things Palestinian people are suffering from is a lack of coverage in the mainstream media and hence, what the protests do is bring people together and make them understand that they're not alone.”

Almost exactly one year before the march, on 13th May 2022, people gathered in the same spot outside the BBC in a vigil honouring Shireen Abu Akleh – the renowned veteran journalist for Al Jazeera, who was shot dead during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. The decision to hold the vigil there was to highlight the “bias of the BBC,” which “largely ignores Israel's atrocities,” said the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in a tweet. On Saturday, many people wore badges and stickers and held signs showing Abu Akleh’s image.

Speakers at the rally outside Downing Street – which included Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, and Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK – also highlighted the role of the media in upholding Israeli apartheid. “All we hear in the UK from mainstream media [is] lies upon lies upon lies… these lies are not just about history, but the truth,” said Zomlot. “[It is] the concealment of what happened 75 years ago and is ongoing… they’re about hiding the truth and hiding Israel’s many, many crimes and the system of colonial apartheid”.

Zomlot continued: “They seized our homes, they stole our harvests, they robbed us of our country. They are trying to rob us of the truth and of our history. But we will not allow them to rob us of our future.”

McDonnell promised to do everything he could to block anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) legislation passing in Parliament. (BDS is a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel).

He also demanded justice for Abu Akleh and the other journalists who’d lost their lives reporting the truth about the occupation. Speaking backstage at the rally, Corbyn echoed the importance of BDS: “It’s time for the British government not to make it illegal to boycott Israeli goods, but to recognise the injustice that has been found in courts all over the world, and to support the right of the Palestinian people to live in peace.”

In his speech at the rally, Corbyn said: “For those that think we are going to go away, dream on and think on. We will never give up on the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Ben Jamal, Director of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, closed the day by pledging: “We will never stop struggling until Palestine is free.” The message from protestors was loud and clear: the Nakba never ended. Now more than ever, people must fight for the freedom of Palestinians.

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