Clashes At Tel Aviv University Nakba Day Commemoration

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The ceremony at Tel Aviv University to commemorate Nakba day became a scene of collision between leftist and right militants, write Omri Meniv and Arik Bender. Right-wing activists burned Palestinian flags and called for “death to terrorists”.

After a tense week during which various parties attempted to block a rally in Tel Aviv University commemorating the Nakba [Arabic for calamity, in reference to Israel's Independence Day], the event did take place on Monday, but outside the walls of the university, close to the entrance gate. Hundreds of Arab and Jewish students and Arab Knesset members participated in the event and read an alternative "Yizkor" [traditional Jewish memorial] prayer. Meanwhile, right-wing activists held a counter-demonstration opposite them; during the ceremony, cries of "death to the terrorists" and boos and hisses were heard from this group.

One of the students who spoke at the rally said, "We have assembled to commemorate the people expelled from their homes, the ones who fled and were not allowed to return. Sixty-four years of pain and the silencing of this pain. Five hundred . . . Palestinian villages were destroyed, 95 percent of the urban population, a total of more than 750 thousand people fled. The Arabic language became a foreign language in its own land . . . Following the calamity came political repression, a regime in which certain people became more equal than others, first and second class citizens. . . "We memorialize the Nation of Israel and the Nation of Palestine, we remember human beings."

The participants of the rally waved signs bearing the faces of adult Arabs who were born in the Galilee region [in Israel] and today live in Jordan and Lebanon. "These are refugees who do not live on their land," explained Rana Reslan, a student. "These people are civilians, not soldiers who fought or could have fought; they left [their homes] in order to stay alive."

Director Mohammed Bakri (who created the controversial movie Jenin Jenin), told Ma'ariv, "Nakba Day is a sad day for me and for many other people who care about what happens here. Many forces are involved in this day, starting from Nazi Germany, through the Arab countries and Arab regime and the Muslim world, ending with the Zionist movement. All these must ask forgiveness from the Palestinian nation, and only then will it be possible to talk about peace."

Hundreds of right-wing activists and Knesset members arrived at the site to hold a counter-demonstration against the rally. Wrapped up in Israeli flags, they sang "We have brought a Nakba to you" [adapted from a popular Israeli song, "We have brought peace to you"] and "death to terrorists." They accompanied the Nakba ceremony with,  alternately, boos and jeers and the national anthem [Hatikvah]. Opposite them, a number of Arab students sang "We will redeem Palestine with blood and fire." One of the organizers was arrested after a skirmish erupted between him and a right-wing demonstrator who called him "traitor." Later, a third demonstrator was arrested, someone who set a Palestinian flag on fire during the rally.

"Ordinarily we wouldn't have marked Independence Day twice, but when Israel's internal enemies—Arabs and the anti-Zionist Left—gather together to mourn Independence Day, we came here to say: the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish nation," said MK Eldad. Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel added, "For us, our enemy's day of mourning is a day of joy, and we can only hope that our enemy will have many Nakbas [calamities]."

The ceremony had been preceded by a stormy debate in the Knesset Education Committee. The chairman of the committee, MK Alex Miller who initiated the discussion, denounced the ceremony and warned, "Today they memorialize the fallen of the Nakba, tomorrow they will memorialize fallen Nazi soldiers." The discussion was characterized by acrimonious disagreements between Arab and right-wing Knesset members. 

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