By Anees Bargouthi
RAMALLAH (AA) – Ahmed Safi, an 89-year-old Palestinian, originally hails from the village of Beit Nabala in what is now central Israel.
But Nabala no longer exists: it was razed to the ground by Zionist forces following Israel’s establishment 68 years ago.
“I remember the Nakba like it was yesterday,” Safi told Anadolu Agency, “when Israeli gangs stormed our village, demolished our home and drove us from our land.”
Palestinians use the word “Nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) to refer to the destruction of hundreds of villages in historical Palestine — and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land by armed Zionist gangs — to make way for the new state of Israel in 1948.
Safi remembers seeing his parents packing up and leaving the house in a hurry.
“We were forced to either leave our village or be slaughtered by Israeli forces,” he said.
“It’s been 68 years since I was forced to leave my village, but I’ll never forget the land of my ancestors,” he added.
Still holding the keys of his long-gone home, Ahmed stressed: “The return to our land is the right of every Palestinian.”
“If I die before going back to my village, my children or their children will eventually go back; we will never abandon our right to return,” a defiant Safi declared.
– Message to world
In Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinians set out from the Dheisheh refugee camp en route to Jerusalem to mark “Nakba Day”, which falls on May 15 of every year.
“Nakba Day is a reminder to the entire world of our right to return to our lost villages and towns,” Monther Amira, who helped organize this year’s Nakba Day activities, told Anadolu Agency.
“It commemorates 68 years of Palestinian struggle and displacement,” he said. “It’s also a message that the new generation of Palestinians will never forget their ancestral homeland.”
Mohamed Karam, a 25-year-old Palestinian from the Dheisheh refugee camp, says he dreams — every day — of returning to the home of his ancestors.
“I will never give up my right to return to the city of Yaffa, from which my grandfather was driven 68 years ago,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Ameena Abdullah, 13, originally from a village near Jerusalem, has heard stories from her grandmother about her family’s hometown of Lifta.
“I’ve never seen or visited Lifta, but my grandmother’s stories create a beautiful image of what it was like before the Nakba,” she said.
Ameena went to assert that, even though she had not been born at the time of the expulsion, she, too, nevertheless had the right to return.
“Someday I will go back to my village and build a new home there,” she said.
Echoing a common Palestinian sentiment, she added: “I will never give up my land.”
Abbas Zaki, a leading member of Palestinian group Fatah, for his part, said “Nakba Day” served to remind the world of Israel’s “racist regime”, which, he asserted, was “established on the ruins of Arab villages and the blood of the Palestinian people”.
“We will never forget the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancient villages and cities,” he told Anadolu Agency.
– Ongoing resistance
Bassam al-Salhi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, for his part, said this year’s Nakba Day came amid an ongoing Palestinian “Intifada” (“uprising”).
“We will continue to resist the Israeli occupation until we free our land, establish an independent state and the refugees return to their homes,” al-Salhi said.
“The right of return is a Palestinian legacy that cannot be waived,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Mohamed Alyan, who heads the Higher Commission for Commemorating Nakba Day, told Anadolu Agency that, every year, the Palestinian people show that they will never forget the “Catastrophe”.
“Thousands of Palestinians hit the streets to mark the passage of 68 years since the Nakba,” he said, noting that both the young and the old had taken part in this year’s Nakba Day activities across the West Bank.
“Memories of the Nakba and the right of return are passed down from generation to generation,” Alyan said.
The Israel-Palestine conflict began in 1917 when the British government, in the now-famous “Balfour Declaration,” called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
In 1948, a new state — “Israel” — was established inside historical Palestine.
Around 15,000 Palestinians were killed, some 800,000 displaced, and 531 Arab villages destroyed in attacks by armed Jewish groups at the time.
The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world. Palestinian refugees are now scattered across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while many have since settled in refugee camps in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.
According to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), there are currently more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees.
For many Palestinians, the right to return to their homes in historical Palestine isn’t just a key political demand, but a fundamental human right.