by Andrew Pollack
On May 15, Palestinian refugees from camps in countries surrounding Israel will march to its borders and demand to be allowed to enter and return to the lands from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948.
The date is commemorated annually as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day. This year refugee and political organizations in the camps decided to move from declaring their right to return to actually implementing it, even if only symbolically. The action was announced by the Organizing Committee of Maseerat al ’Awda, the Return to Palestine March, after a meeting of Palestinian and Lebanese civil society organizations and in consultation with Palestinian groups around the world.
Said the organizers: “The March will serve to reaffirm the rights of return and of the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea, and to reaffirm that these rights are inalienable, irrevocable, and non-negotiable.” The committee also called for solidarity demonstrations at Israeli embassies. U.S. supporters are targeting the UN to draw attention to resolutions passed by that body supporting the right of return, as well as the basis of that right in international law.
These actions come after revelations by Al Jazeera of attempts by the Palestinian Authority to barter away the right of return in exchange for a pseudostate in 22% of historic Palestine. And they come as the PA, failing to gain even such a bantustan from Israel, has turned to efforts to get the UN to vote in September to recognize such a mutilated vestige of Palestine.
Organizers of the march said one of their goals is to confirm “the centrality of the Palestine issue to all Arabs,” and they place it squarely in the context of the regional Arab revolt.
In an April 20 Haaretz column, Aluf Benn pointed out that Israel has been in a state of emergency since 1948—longer than any regime in the region. This parallel between Israel and other tyrannical regimes was drawn out further by Marwan Bishara in Al Jazeera, in a column titled “The Middle East’s oldest dictatorship,” in which he explained that all of Israel’s policies—in fact, its very existence as a colonial state—makes the removal of its tyranny over the Palestinian people the longest running and most important unresolved task in the fight for democracy in the region.
What else but a dictatorship would one call a state that by practice and definition excludes on a racial basis the overwhelming majority of its former residents from their land, from civil and legal rights, from jobs and services?
Despite the substantive meaninglessness of the September UN vote, we must be ready for the possibility that Israel will use it as an excuse to launch a new war.
We can also expect violence to be used against the latest Freedom Flotilla trying to break the Israeli siege of Gaza in May. And we must be ready for repressive action against those trying to implement their right of return on May 15 as well as against their supporters.
Finally, as we go to press, a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah has been announced. This also increases the danger of an Israeli attack—not because a unified Hamas/Fatah government would seriously seek liberation, but because the newfound unity would encourage calls for greater resistance to Zionism from the ranks of both factions.
Supporters of Palestine must be ready to mobilize against any such attacks. And we must do all we can to maximize turnout for May 15 Right of Return events.
> This article was originally published in the May 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.