Israeli citizens opened Google on Tuesday, March 2 not to the usual blue, red, yellow, and green homepage, but, rather, to a cheerful illustration of Israelis celebrating their independence day. The image showed Jewish Israelis playing music, barbecuing, kicking a football, and even taking selfies. While the majority of Israeli citizens participated in such celebratory activities yesterday, the image presented by Google neglected the “independence day” experience of nearly one-fifth of the country’s population.
“You celebrate something good,” one Palestinian man named Marwan noted at a gathering in the displaced village of Mi’ar. “For us, there is nothing good about today.” For Palestinians in Israel and around the world, May 2 represents not a victory, but a catastrophe, or Nakba, as it is called in Arabic. For them, the establishment of Israel symbolizes death, expulsion, demolition, dispossession, and the loss of nationhood. In 1948 alone, Zionist and Israeli forces displaced approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their land. Meanwhile, those who managed to remain within the new state’s boundaries lost the vast majority of their land, of which a mere 3.5 percent remains under Arab ownership today.
While a large portion of Jewish Israeli citizens participated in independence day festivities, its Palestinian minority could not forget the massacres, the ethnic cleansing, and all that they lost with the establishment of the state of Israel. To commemorate this loss, thousands of Palestinian citizens in Israel participated in a march to Kabri, one of the 531 villages the state of Israel destroyed in 1948.
On May 21, 1948, the Carmeli Brigade, a brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces, occupied the village of Kabri, extrajudicially killing several of its villagers by firing squad, destroying all of the homes, and displacing over 1,600 Palestinian residents. In 2017, little remains of the village, which is located just northeast of Akko. Where there was once an elementary school, a mosque, homes, and fields for growing everything from okra to pomegranates, only a few crumbling structures and the village cemetery remain. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the former inhabitants of Kabri and their descendants, which now number in the tens of thousands, live as refugees in Lebanon (namely in the Burj al-Burajni refugee camp) and Syria. A small number of its inhabitants, the few who managed to remain in Israel, and their descendants now live primarily in Akko and Abu Snan.
On January 18, 1949, less than a year after Israeli forces destroyed the village, the state established Kibbutz Kabri on its very remains. Since 1948, the state has established five other Jewish settlements in the area, while it has continued to deny the Kabri villagers the right to return. On the contrary, despite having established over five-hundred Jewish settlements in Israel since 1948, the state has not created a single Arab settlement—not for the residents of Kabri and not for the residents of the 531 other villages displaced villages. The only localities it has established for the Arab population are the seven townships it created to concentrate the Bedouins it displaced in the Naqab (Negev).
The state of Israel justifies its refusal of the right of return by framing such an influx of Palestinian refugees as a “demographic threat.” At the same time, it refuses to even so much as allow its current Arab residents, one-third of whom are internally displaced, to return to their ancestral lands. On the contrary, some state officials, namely Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, promote the physical transfer of the Arab community.
Last year the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Internally Displaced held the March of Return in the displaced village of Wadi Zabala. The inhabitants of Wadi Zabala and their descendants now live in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran in the Naqab, which the Israeli authorities violently demolished on January 18 of this year. The case of Umm al-Hiran, in addition to the recent passage of the Kaminitz bill, demonstrate that, although many perceive the Nakba as an isolated event, the state’s policies of dispossession continue to this day. Thus, not only does the March of Return seek to emphasize the internationally-recognized right of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their land, but it also seeks to oppose the continued alienation of indigenous Arab Palestinians from their lands, a policy that further marginalizes the Arab minority in a state that already discriminates against them at every level.
This year, the March of Return took place on May 2, Israeli Independence Day, rather than on May 15 (when Palestinians around the world commemorate the Nakba), highlighting the country’s contradictory collective memories of triumph and despair. Since its establishment, the state of Israel has systematically ignored the suffering of Palestinians within it borders, despite their status as citizens, their internationally-recognized rights as an indigenous community, and the fact that they make up nearly twenty percent of the population. Likewise, as yesterday’s Google homepage demonstrates, the international community has also ignored the suffering of Palestinian citizens in Israel, in addition to the suffering of Palestinians in the diaspora and the occupied territories.
The Mossawa Center calls on the international community to condemn the displacements that have occurred throughout historical Palestine—past, present, and future and to demand that the state of Israel grants Palestinians their internationally-recognized right to return to their lands because, ultimately, meaningful reconciliation between the state’s Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants and a peaceful solution to the conflict as a whole require the recognition of the rights of displaced people, as well as the right to self-determination for all.
Jewish Israelis gather to celebrate Independence Day on what was once the Palestinian village of Mi’ar, which the state of Israel destroyed in 1948 and later converted into recreational picnic grounds. Their celebrations took place just meters away from the Mi’ar cemetery (all that remains of the village) where villagers and their descendants mourned their removal from the land 69 years ago.