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March of Return: Thousands rally to commemorate Nakbah Day

Mohammed Kayyal hardly remembers his parents' village of Al Birwah, where they were expelled from in 1948. He does remember, however, that both his parents suffered tremendously in the immediate aftermath, once they became refugees in their own land.

Today, he works for ADRID (Association for the Defense of Refugees and Internally Displaced), established in 2000 as a nonprofit organization. He is an avid believer in the right of return of Palestinians who were expelled from or fled the homeland in 1948.

Every year, a march is organized to one of the more than 500 destroyed villages during or following the war of 1948. Peace activists, representatives of the villages, and supporters walk peacefully towards the ruins of the designated village as a sign of solidarity and steadfastness.

In May 2016, AFSC supported the 19th march, which coincided as usual with Israeli Independence Day and took place in Wadi Zubalah, a remote location in the Naqab (Negev). The slogan, as always, was  "their independence day is our Nakbah." This message is geared towards the Israeli authorities and to the world. It emphasizes the Palestinian right of return as per UN Resolution 242.

Despite the long journey (3-4 hours each way), the organizers thought the village of Wadi Subalah would remind the world about their right of return and shed the light on the plight of the Bedouin who are currently being displaced forcefully displaced by the Israeli authorities from their land to clear it for more Jewish settlements. Although residents of these areas are Israeli citizens, they are being evicted to pave the way for others. Hence, "the Nakbah continues because the policy of land expropriation and settlement building continues," says Mohammed.

Seventy buses along with hundreds of private cars drove to Wadi Subalah. An estimated 10,000 people attended. Demonstrators marched peacefully under the hazy sky, wearing keffiyehs, waving Palestinian flags, and chanting. "Less people attended this year, but this was expected given the far location of the village. Usually about 20,000 attend," Mohammed explains.

AFSC helped cover the costs of some of the buses, and the rest was covered through donations. According to media reports, the march was one of the largest national events in several years. "It was great to see Palestinians act as a united people to defend our houses, and enhance our presence and steadfastness on this land," Mohammed says.

In its work to foster cohesion among Palestinian communities in different locations, AFSC Middle East is also assisting ADRID develop its work plan for the next three years. The strategic planning will help the organization foster relations with refugees and internally displaced people and provide improved support to the struggle of Palestinians to return to their homeland.

In fact, the return of Palestinians is an urgently needed discussion that needs  to happen  in Israel, as it is still a taboo topic. It is important to recognize the harm done before moving forward.

"You held our heads high and we were proud", said a march participant. “This is a turning point in the work and struggle for our cause.”

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