SIDON, Lebanon: A march for Palestinians to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the Nakba took place Thursday from the coastal city of Sidon toward the southern border with Israel to symbolize their hope to return to the historic land.
The first refugees to emerge from the Nakba were witnessed by Sidonians 66 years ago, when thousands of Palestinian refugee families erected tents and settled in the city, in an area known today as the camp of Ain al-Hilweh. Such images were recreated Thursday, with refugees erecting tents in Martyrs’ Square to symbolize their first settlement in the area, hoisting flags and banners, all organized by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
It also included a heritage exhibition featuring traditional collectibles and clothing, such as the keffiyeh, as well as property leases and old keys to the homes Palestinians were driven out of.
May 15 is the day on which Palestinians remember their expulsion from Palestine, where Israel was founded in 1948.
Palestinians also met with representatives of Lebanese political parties, Palestinian factions and local government officials.
The meeting was launched by member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine Fouad Othman, followed by a representative of the education office at the Progressive Socialist Party, Samir Mahmoud, who stressed the party’s support for the Palestinian cause and the right of return.
Maher Shabayta, the secretary of the Fatah Movement in Sidon, said Palestinians refused all proposals that contradicted the right of return, which he said was not open to negotiation or compromise.
“There is no backing out from the right of the refugees to return, for the Palestinian revolution was launched in 1965 for the implementation of this right and tens of thousands of martyrs and hundreds of thousands of wounded have fallen for this cause,” Shabayta said, adding that Palestinian factions were unified to make this common goal a reality.
Also speaking at the event was DFLP official Ibrahim Nemer.
The representative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement in Sidon, Shakib Anna, noted the recent security incidents in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, calling them “painful and dangerous.”
The camp has been plagued by a series of assassinations and clashes between armed groups.
In a statement on Nakba Day, President Michel Sleiman expressed hope that Palestinians “would be able to restore their usurped rights.”
“We hope [Palestinians] will achieve their dream of a homeland and that the refugees will achieve their dream of return,” Sleiman said.
Participants then took part in two symbolic marches, on land and by sea, organized by the Palestinian Democratic Youth Association, titled “By land, by sea, we are returning to Palestine.”
A substantial number of participants gathered at the Sidon port, carrying Palestinian and Lebanese flags, as well as banners bearing the names of Palestinian towns. They then boarded boats that sailed south along the coast of Sidon.
The Israeli army was on high alert along its borders Thursday, anticipating a confrontation with Palestinian refugees as many made their way to the barbed wire fence with clear memories of events in 2011, when Israeli soldiers shot at Palestinian refugees who were attempting to climb over. Eleven were killed and nearly 100 wounded.
Around 50 Palestinians, including religious figures, intellectuals and workers, joined another march organized by the Returning to Palestine Committee.
Youssef Ahmad, one of the organizers, said the Palestinian people were holding on to their right of return and slammed both the Arab and international community for their passivity with respect to Israeli occupation.
“The Palestinian people will never forget their right to return, and we are not ready to make any compromises over such right,” Ahmad said.
“The international community should end its silence and slowness over ending the Israeli occupation,” he said. “For if it weren’t for the silence of the Arab regimes, the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people would not have continued.”
The march, making various stops along the way, ended in the village of Naqoura, along the southern border.
Participants also stopped to deliver a letter to United Nations peacekeepers intended for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regarding the Palestinian right of return.