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Palestinians say Gaza war like enduring a second 'Nakba'

Palestinian protesters hold symbolic keys during a rally in the northern West Bank city of Nablus
— Rafah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

As the Gaza war raged on, Palestinians on Wednesday marked the anniversary of the Nakba, or "catastrophe", of mass displacement during the creation of the state of Israel 76 years ago.

Thousands marched in cities across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, waving Palestinian flags, wearing keffiyeh scarves and holding up symbolic keys as reminders of long-lost family homes.

Inside the besieged Gaza Strip, where the Israel-Hamas war has ground on for more than seven months, scores more died in the fighting sparked by the Hamas attack of October 7.

"Our 'Nakba' in 2023 is the worst ever," said one displaced Gaza man, Mohammed al-Farra, whose family fled their home in Khan Yunis for the coastal area of Al-Mawasi.

"It is much harder than the Nakba of 1948."

Israel's borders

Palestinians everywhere have long mourned the events of that year when, during the war that led to the establishment of Israel, around 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

But 42-year-old Farra, whose family was then displaced from Jaffa near Tel Aviv, said the current war is even harder.

"When your child is accustomed to all the comforts and luxuries, and suddenly, overnight, everything is taken away from him... it is a big shock."

- West Bank rallies -

Thousands marched in the West Bank city of Ramallah, as well as in Nablus, Hebron and elsewhere, carrying banners denouncing the occupation and protesting the war in Gaza.

Palestinian protesters gather in the main square of the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 15, 2024

"There's pain for us, but of course more pain for Gazans," said one protester, Manal Sarhan, 53, who has relatives in Israeli jails that have not been heard from since October 7.

"We're living the Nakba a second time."

Wednesday's commemorations and marches -- held a day after Israel's Independence Day -- come as the Gaza war has brought a massive death toll and the forced displaced of most of the territory's 2.4 million people.

Palestinian youths hold up banners and flags during a rally in the southern West Bank city of Hebron

A devastating humanitarian crisis has plagued the territory, with the United Nations warning of looming famine in the north.

Ahmed al-Akhras, 50, who was displaced from central Gaza to Rafah in the far south, also said the war was worse than anything Palestinians have endured before.

"Through my experience and conversations with those who lived through the Nakba... the bombings, destruction, displacement, killing and annihilation occurring in this war are unprecedented throughout history," he said.

By comparison, he said, back in 1948 -- when his own family fled the destroyed village of Wadi Hunayn in what is now Israel -- for most people "the suffering was limited to forced displacement".

- 'We're not free' -

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war erupted after Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Palestinian protesters hold symbolic keys during a rally in Ramallah to mark the 76th anniversary of the "catastrophe" of the creation of Israel

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, 128 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 36 the military says are dead.

Israel's relentless bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have since killed at least 35,233 people, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

With the Middle East peace process stalled for many years already, enmity between Israel's leadership and Palestinian factions has reached fever pitch, while the conflict has also sparked a global wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

At the Ramallah rally, 16-year-old Ahmed Nomas said: "We want the world to stop seeing Palestinians as terrorists and to realise that we have no rights."

Mourners surround the body of Palestinian Muhammad Safi, before his funeral in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on May 15, 2024, after he was killed by an Israeli army bullet, according to Palestinian authorities

"We are not free to move," said Nomas, whose family has lived in the West Bank refugee camp of Qalandia since they were ousted from their village near Jerusalem in 1948.

"The Israeli soldiers are always checking or monitoring our movements. It's not a life."

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since 1967 and is home to about 490,000 Israeli settlers who live in communities considered illegal under international law.

Violence has surged since October 7, with at least 499 Palestinians killed, according to the health ministry, and at least 20 Israelis dead according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

As on many others days, Palestinians mourned a violent death on Wednesday -- a young man officials said was shot dead by Israeli forces during an altercation following the Nakba rally in Ramallah.

The army did not immediately comment on the death of the man, identified as Ayser Muhammad Safi, 20, a student at Birzeit University, by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

As his bloodied body, wrapped in a blue sheet, was taken to a morgue, tearful onlookers screamed and chanted "Allahu akbar", or God is greatest, and one young woman fainted.