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Palestinians mark a 'catastrophe'

They mourn exodus from the land during Israel's founding.

May 16, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Across Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians on Thursday mourned their exodus from the land with moments of silence, black clothing and displays of defiance.

The demonstrations came a day after the 60th anniversary of Israel's declaration of statehood, an event that Palestinians refer to as the Nakba: the catastrophe. It led to a war between the new state and surrounding Arab nations -- and to lives as rootless refugees for generations of Palestinians.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands of black-clad marchers marked the event by rallying in Manara Square. Protesters in the West Bank released 21,915 black balloons -- one for each day since Israel's founding.

A two-minute siren and a moment of silence preceded the Ramallah event, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the rally via satellite from Kuwait.

"We mark this anniversary not to feel sorry for ourselves, but to remind everyone of the long and glorious struggle of this people, whose suffering and pain have not ended yet," Abbas said. "It is time the occupation came to an end and the mark of disgrace in human history called the Palestinian Nakba also came to an end."

Clashes broke out throughout the day between Israeli soldiers and rock-throwing Palestinian youths near the Kalandiyeh checkpoint bisecting the Jerusalem-Ramallah road. No serious injuries were reported.

In the Gaza Strip, intra- Palestinian disputes marred Nakba protests. Supporters of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, fought with cadres from the rival Fatah faction at a Fatah-sponsored Nakba rally. Thirty people were reported injured in the clashes.

Thursday's events capped several days of Palestinian rallies, marches and commemorative events. This week in Jerusalem, hundreds of black-clad marchers had walked through predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, marking homes belonging to dispossessed Palestinian refugees.

On Monday, students at mostly Arab East Jerusalem's Al Quds University staged a mock wedding between a bride named Thawra, or revolution, and a groom named Aid, or return. It was meant to symbolize the demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to Israel, a major sticking point in peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

As Palestinians marked the Nakba, President Bush appeared before the Israeli parliament and received standing ovations as he pledged unwavering U.S. support for the Jewish state and hailed "the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacles stand in the way of your destiny."

Palestinians complained that Bush made little reference to them and no mention of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, another sticking point in peace talks.

"I didn't expect it to be this much of a poke in the eye to the Palestinians," said Diana Buttu, a former Palestinian Authority official.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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