Monday, August 10, 2020

The village of Al-Walaja commemorates Nakba day

Juicebox Gallery

By Lil Jackson - May 17, 2014
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [Bethlehem] [Nakba]

 Photography by Lazar Simeonov.

Men, women and children of all ages gathered on Thursday in the village of Al-Walaja, just outside of Bethlehem, to remember those expelled from their homes and land during the 1948 Nakba. With the ever-recognizable sound of Israeli military vehicle horns, the familiar crack of tear gas canisters and the constantly present helmeted soldiers, the demonstration in Al-Walaja was one of the largest commemoration events of the day.  

The Palestinian Popular Struggle Committee organized three buses, all of which were full, to bring supporters from Ramallah to Al-Walaja for the demonstration.  

Upon arriving to the village, protestors gathered at a tent set up by the Badil, a resource center focusing on the rights of Palestinian refugees inside and outside of mandatory Palestine. An exhibition of photographs was organized in the tent, showing various images of the Israeli occupation. 

This year Palestinians commemorated the 66th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba. The Nakba, or 'Catastrophe’ in English, refers to the forcible displacement of approximately 700,000 to 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land. The expulsion was undertaken by the Zionist forces between November 1947 and the ceasefire agreements with the Arab states in 1949. Around 80 per cent of the Arab inhabitants,of what is now Israel were evicted.

Protestors on Thursday carried the Palestinian national flag, the Right of Return flags and placards in the shape of keys. The key and the right to return flags represent the right of return for those displaced during and since the 1948 Nakba. The Right of Return is a basic human right according to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and thus, Israel is violating international law from preventing refugees from returning to their rightful homes. Israeli authorities have historically been against the Right of Return in any shape or form. 

Baha’ Hilo, an organizer of the Nakba commemoration in Al-Walaja, told the Palestine Monitor that the day’s purpose was to remember those who had been “expelled, oppressed and punished for the mere fact of [Israel’s] existence.” Nakba demonstrations are undertaken to be a reminder of “of the occupation of us (Palestinians)”.

The demonstration took place on a hillside upon which ran a long trail of barbed wire fencing – a physical barrier meant to separate Israel proper and the West Bank. For the residents of Al-Walaja, the barbed wire fence marking the so-called 'Green Line’ is a point of dispute. The Green Line demarcates the 1949 armistice line created after the war 1948 that led to the creation of the state of Israel. With a population of around two and a half thousand people, the village used to own 18 square kilometers of fertile land. During the war in 1948, residents fled across the Green Line that eventually became the border between the newly formed state of Israel and the Jordanian controlled West Bank. Today, Al-Walaja has just six square kilometers of land two-thirds its original area. As a result of the Six Day War in 1967, Al-Walaja was placed under Israeli occupation. During the 1993 Oslo Accords, the village was divided in two; the residential area was placed in Area B, under joint Israeli and Palestinian control, and the agricultural land was placed in Area C. Area C makes up over 60% of the West Bank. Israel controls all civil and military affairs in the area.

Two large settlements, Gilo and Har Gilo, with a combined population of around 40,000 inhabitants, sit adjacent to Al-Walaja. Israel has plans to construct its 'Separation Barrier’ directly through the village, annexing a great deal of vital farmland. 

Within minutes of protestors straddling the hilltop and marching downwards towards the barbed wire fence, the Israeli military began firing tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd from the area. Less than an hour into the demonstration, the Israeli military had advanced towards the main throng of protestors at the top of the hill. The continual use of tear gas and rubber bullets resulted in the demonstration’s disintegration as the participants sought refuge in Al-Walaja. No major injuries were reported to have taken place.

Another year passes with little prospect of resolution. However Mohammed Eliyan, head of the Committee to Commemorate the Nakba, remains positive, stating: “This May 15, as we observe this sad occasion, we say that we are stronger and more determined to stand up to Israeli government’s policies to continue to dispossess Palestinians,” according to Al Jazeera.  The Right of Return is fundamental for the Palestinian people and Nakba day will continue to be commemorated and used as an opportunity to demonstrate collective Palestinian to the occupation.


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