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Palestine activists use virtual means to mark Nakba Day

Online rally brings thousands together to mark the day hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes
Online Nakba rally brought together thousands of participants from across the world (Facebook/screengrab)

Each year, on 15 May, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or Day of Catastrophe, when more than 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries, leading to the creation of the state of Israel.

Demonstrations usually grip capitals around the globe with protesters affirming the Palestinian right of return as well as drawing awareness to Israel's illegal occupation.

But with the coronavirus pandemic cancelling all commemorative events, pro-Palestine activists have taken their protest to the virtual sphere to mark the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba.

'Today the world is characterised by the total destruction of life as we know it. The world is trapped in their homes, just as experienced every day by Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza'

- Zwelivelile Mandela

A coalition of organisations including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign lashed out at Israel's planned annexation of Palestinian lands on Friday when they gathered to commemorate the Nakba.

Roger Waters, co-founder of the Grammy award-winning rock bank Pink Floyd, said despite Israeli efforts to erase Palestinian identity, the Palestinian cause was continuing to grow.

"My heartfelt belief is that we are making huge progress," Waters said during the webinar.

"The Palestinian cause is more visible and popular and un-ignorable every day. This ain't over by a long shot - because to support international law and the idea that human beings have rights puts us firmly on the right side of history."

The shackles of occupation

Zwelivelile Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, said the outbreak of the coronavirus had allowed the world to experience a fraction of what Palestinians have endured since the founding of Israel.

"Today the world is characterised by the total destruction of life as we know it. The world is trapped in their homes, just as experienced every day by Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza," he said.

"In the face of such a catastrophe, Palestinians are shaking off the shackles of occupation just as we in South Africa have shaken off the shackles of apartheid's brutal oppression. We stand with you until victory dawns."

Diana Buttu, a human rights lawyer and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization, read from her father's story of displacement, saying: "Today a park and a L'Oréal factory stand where my home was.

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"I dream of the day when my grandson can return home."

Ahead of the Nakba day, activists launched an Arabic hashtag, loosely translated to "Palestine as a whole," to affirm the Palestinian right of return and raise awareness about the Israeli occupation.

"For the 72nd Nakba anniversary, we will not accept a reality where Palestine is occupied by even one inch," Dawoud Abu Dalfa, a Palestinian journalist, said on Twitter.

In recent weeks, Israel's coalition government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank, as was mooted in US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan. 

Palestinians have expressed outrage at the plan, threatening to abolish bilateral agreements with Israel.

Several European countries have also denounced the move, backing sanctions against Israel in the event of annexation.

BDS movement

During the online rally, Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, called on international companies and world bodies to divest from trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

"We call for a ban on the arms trade with Israel, along with military security cooperation, the suspension of free trade agreements and the prohibiting of all trade with Israel's illegal settlements.

'The key to justice is putting people before profit and realigning priorities'

- Omar Barghouti, BDS movement co-founder

"The key to justice is putting people before profit and realigning priorities, everywhere to divest from the military-security complex, and to invest in health, education, climate protection." 

While the US continues to support Israel's illegal settlement expansion, activists demanded the international community take a tougher stance with Israel.

In a separate development on Friday, speaking after a virtual meeting of EU foreign ministers, EU policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc "must work to discourage any possible initiative toward annexation".

He said the EU looked forward to working with Israel's new government, but added: "Unilateral action from either side should be avoided and for sure international law should be upheld."