“You know what scares Israel more than Arab armies or Iranian nukes? Palestinian refugees simply walking home.” - Seen on Twitter on Nakba Day
Sunday marked the Nakba — or day of “catastrophe” in Arabic — referring to the 1948 declaration of Israel when more than 700,000 Palestinian civilians were made homeless overnight.
In remembrance of the Nakba, last weekend thousands of Palestinians and their supporters marched from Syria (video), Gaza, Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Lebanon toward Israel’s borders, and were — in most cases — thwarted, sometimes violently, from reaching their destination by Arab security forces.
Today, Palestinian refugees and their descendants number around 5 million worldwide.
Nour Samaha, a 28-year-old freelance Swiss-Lebanese writer based in Beirut for the past 18 months, participated in the Lebanese Nakba march to Palestine. Her story, posted on Facebook, is riveting: Nour’s day begins with smiles and excitement, and ends with rage, shock and disillusionment. Most compelling for me though is that as the violence of the day unfolds, well-meaning young protesters don’t run scared — they get angrier:
“The more bodies were pulled away from the fence, whether dead or wounded, the more we, as a crowd, wanted to be there. To help, to support, to get angry, to chant, to do whatever was necessary to defend.”
From Tahrir Square to Pearl Square one wonders at the courage of the Arab youth who stand firm in the face of live bullets and truncheons. Are they crazy? So many of these brave organizers and participants are middle class and/or educated — they have much to lose.
Nour’s story — told in her own words below — illustrates how easily a simple yearning for justice can morph into a non-negotiable determination to wrench that prize any which way. The real lesson for Arab autocrats and Israel is that violence against today’s protesters can no longer gain them the upper hand for very long. Something new is in the air and it’s wildly contagious — spreading from Tunis to Manama, Benghazi to Maroun el Ras:
Sunday 15th May, 2011.
7.30am, Nada calls. “The buses are already full and they told us if we want to hitch a ride we’d have to stand the whole way down, is there space with you?” The buses are full? Big smile on my face. “Of course!” Quick change of plan, and I wait for Rana before we set off to pick up Nada and Lara and join Ahmad in Khalde.
After a stop for coffee, we began our journey down, with Ahmad leading our two-car convoy. It was very unlikely we would get lost though, because every kilometre or so we’d pass half a dozen buses decked out with Palestinian flags, clearly heading in the same direction as us. And if somehow we missed those, someone had kindly taken the time to signpost the entire journey down with directions to Palestine. I guess for future reference, you know, after we’ve liberated it and we can make plans to hang out in Haifa for the weekend. Forward planning; I like.
Adorned with keffiyehs, and draping flags out of the car window, we laughed at those who had predicted the worst for us that day, rather, exchanged ideas of how we would cross the border fence. “What did you hear?” “Someone said they’re going to shoot at us.” “They wouldn’t dare!” “I wonder how many of us are going to show up?” “I wonder how many of THEM are going to show up?” “Look! More buses!” Nada told us she had promised her father that she won’t be the first person to break across the border, “but I will be the second!”. Ohh yay, I get to be the first. (more…)