Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were observing what they refer to as the \’Nakba\’ or \’catastrophe\’ that befell Palestinians in the 1948 war.
At noon, an eerie silence fell on the West Bank city of Ramallah as sirens wailed for 66 seconds. Following a march from the late President Yasser Arafat\’s mausoleum, hundreds stood at the city centre.
Protests were also planned for Thursday evening in Jaffa, Haifa, and other cities with large Palestinian populations. In the northern city of Akka, residents will hold a remembrance at the home of a woman who faces eviction from her nearly 50-year-old family home.
On Wednesday, the eve of the anniversary, Palestinians clad in black shirts carried 66 torches through the streets of Ramallah. In a statement broadcast on local television later that night, Abbas accused the Israeli government of making the two-state solution more difficult to attain, leaving one of two possibilities: a bi-national state or a racist apartheid regime.
“It is time for the leaders of Israel to understand that there is no homeland for the Palestinians except Palestine, and it is here we are staying,” Abbas said. “It is time to end the longest occupation in modern history.”
In 1948, more than 800,000 Palestinians, or 67 percent of the population, fled or were expelled by force from their homes and prevented from returning.
Figures released by the Ramallah-based Central Bureau of Statistics this week put the number of registered Palestinian refugees at 5.3 million. They live in 58 United Nations-run camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, imprisoned in Israel on murder charges, said in a written statement that any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that does not guarantee the right of return is unacceptable.
“The right of return for Palestine refugees to their homes from where they were forcibly transferred is a sacred right that can not be compromised, a right guaranteed by international law and enshrined in UN General Assembly resolution 194,” he said.
In Gaza, dozens of Palestinians demonstrated at the barrier separating the strip from Israel, raising flags and banners in support of the right of return.