For the first time in 52 years, internallydisplaced Palestinians in Israel - constituting onequarter of Israel's Palestinian population today - succeeded to draw wide local and international attention to their struggle for return to their homes and properties by means of public "Return Marches" and rallies in the destroyed villages of Umm al-Zeinat and Damoun and the Palestinian town of Umm Al-Fahm.
It was also the first time since 1948 that the Palestinian community in Israel issued a united call for a public boycott of the celebrations of Israel's "Independence Day" (14 May 2000). The boycott was led by the National Committee for the Defense of the Internally Displaced Palestinians in Israel in cooperation with the Arab Monitoring Committee composed of Palestinian mayors and members of the Knesset, political parties, and national institutions. A celebration staged by the Israeli authorities in the Palestinian town of Shafa'amr on 7 May was met by a Palestinian counter demonstration, which led to violent confrontations with the police and resulted in 20 Palestinian injuries and 30 arrests. For more on internally displaced Palestinians see BADIL Country Profiles.
In the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the 52nd anniversary of the Nakba came at a time of public outrage at Israeli arrogance revealed both on the level of the political negotiations and concrete policies in 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (land confiscation, settlement expansion, house demolitions), concern for the lives of the approximately 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails who had already been on hunger strike for more than two weeks, and Palestinian refugees' apprehension about Israel's ongoing rejection of their right of return (UN Resolution 194).
Under the Barak government some 5,000 new housing units have been approved in West Bank and Gaza settlements, thousands of dunums of Palestinian land have been expropriated and tensof- thousands of dunums of land have been designated as closed military areas. Palestinian families living in Area C (full Israeli control) of the West Bank and in areas adjacent to planned settlement expansion and by-pass roads continued to receive home demolition orders. The demolition of Palestinian buildings has included water cisterns and animal shelters. The Barak government has also approved some 12 new by-pass roads. The destruction of the Palestinian landscape includes the continued uprooting of thousands of olive and fruit trees. Between the Wye Memorandum (10/ 98) and July 1999 alone some 34,000 trees were uprooted.
Massive protests and violent confrontations with the Israeli occupation army on 13-15 May involved Palestinian civilians and police forces and resulted in six Palestinian deaths and hundreds of injuries. Marches and rallies demanding implementation of UN Resolution 194, by local refugee camp organizations, the Union of Youth Activity Centers, Women Centers in the camps, the Popular Service Committees and political parties, were held in all major refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip between May 14-15. The largest event in the West Bank was the Return March- Rally organized in Balata Camp (Nablus) on May 14. This march was joined by delegations from the city of Nablus and adjacent villages, students of an-Najah University and Al-Quds Open University, and refugee Return Marches arriving from the camps of Nur-Shams, Jenin, Tulkarem, al-Far'ah, al-'Ain, and the two 'Askar camps.
Some 5,000 people, carrying signs and slogans, walked through the streets of Balata Camp to form a rally attended by representatives of the political parties, the Governor of Nablus, and all major refugee organizations.
Their Independence Day - The Day of our Tragedy
Dear Palestinian People,
When David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of Israel, announced the independence of the Jewish State and promised peace for the people of the region, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcefully evicted - massacres and planned eviction - by armed gangs headed by the Haganah, the predecessor of the "Israeli Defense Army". Between night and dawn, two-thirds of our people became refugees without shelter but for the sky over the refugee camps. The Zionist gangs did not suffice with the eviction of almost one million Palestinians, but also totally destroyed 530 Arab villages and cities. They confiscated our lands and properties by means of unjust laws and considered our people as "absentees", although they are still present and alive.
Fifty-two years later, our people still suffer from the harsh conditions in the refugee camps, as well as the restrictive policies and the iron hand implemented the Arab regimes without exception and climaxing in massacres from "Black September" (Jordan, 1970), Tel az-Z'atar (Lebanon, 1976), until Sabra and Shatila (Lebanon, 1982). Our people continue to look to Palestine, hoping to return. They reject all alternatives of compensation and resettlement.
We the internally displaced Palestinians suffer a double pain. We have remained near our destroyed villages and towns. With pain we listen to the silent prayers of our mosques and the silent call of
our church bells - silenced since our eviction and transformed into stables for the settlers' cattle and sites of prostitution and drug abuse. They desecrate the cemeteries of our ancestors who, for 52 years, have not stopped appealing to our conscience and the conscience of humanity.
Yes, they took our land by massacres and by the eviction of two thirds of our Palestinian people.
They destroyed our villages, confiscated our lands, and consider us absentees. They instigate the Arab regimes to implement the most abominable massacres, even inside the refugee camps. They who practice the policy of ethnic cleansing against us, who are considered citizens in the "oasis of democracy in the Middle East", are celebrating - in conjunction with their allies and spies - their "independence day", the day of our Nakba (tragedy).
We call upon all our people to boycott all celebrations of the independence of Israel, official and non-official, and to participate in the national activities, which reaffirm our belonging to our People and our Land!
Shafa'amr, 10 May 2000 The National Committee for the Defense of Internally Displaced Palestinians in Israel
Arab: 18,684 (dunums)
Umm al-Zeinat was among the 10 largest villages in the Haifa district. The villagers depended for their livelihood on agriculture and animal husbandry, grain, vegetables and fruit trees. In the early days of the 1948 war, Zionist forces dressed in British army uniforms carried out an attack on the village. Umm al-Zeinat was captured on 15 May 1948. The Jewish settlement of Elyaqim was
established on the southern side of the village site. The houses have been reduced to rubble, but the village cemetery is still visible.
Arabs: 19,073 (dunums)
Al-Damun had an elementary school and a renownedmosque. Villagers produced mats and baskets from the esparto grass and rushes that grew along the Na'amin river. They also grew wheat, sorghum, barley, olives, watermelons and cantaloupes. Al-Damun was depopulated between May and July 1948. Those villagers who did not flee were expelled and the village was leveled.
Stone and concrete rubble are scattered around the site and the cemetery is visible.
Sources: All That Remains, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1990, p. 11; *Salman Abu Sitta, The Palestinian
Nakba 1948. London: The Palestinian Return Centre, 1998.