Clashes Erupt at Demonstrations Observing Palestinian Nakba Day

Article Summary
Tensions flared in Israel as Arab and leftist Israeli activists commemorated Nakba Day on May 15 by supporting the Palestinians’ right to return. Counter-demonstrations by right-wing Israelis led to violence, resulting in several arrests on both sides, demonstrating that in many ways the Arab-Israeli divide remains a fundamental one.

On the eve [March 14, 2012] of the 64th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba Day ["Catasrophe Day," the day after Israeli Independence], two demonstrations took place at the University of Tel Aviv.

The first was initiated by hundreds of Arab students and leftist Jewish students in remembrance of the Nakba. They organized several activities at the campus, including hanging pictures of refugees and flying banners that emphasized their commitment to the Palestinian refugees' right of return.

The second, however, was staged by right-wing students and extremist leaders. The demonstration was led by the two most extreme MPs in the Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari and Aryeh Eldad, who gathered to respond to the Arab demonstration by trying to sabotage their activities and bring down the platform on which the pro-Nakba celebrations were taking place.

Baruch Marzel, a right-wing activist from the banned, racist "Kahana Hai" movement told Arab demonstrators: "Your day of grief is a day of joy for us. Many Nakba Day returns to the enemies we defeated!" Confrontations broke out between the two opposing sides, leading to police intervention where both Arab and right wing activists were arrested.

The tense atmosphere shifted its attention to the parliamentary education committee of the Knesset. At the request of right-wing MPs, the committee discussed the university’s decision to grant Arab students the right to demonstrate. Right-wing MPs attacked both the University of Tel Aviv administration and Arab MPs for supporting the Nakba Day commemoration. The tense atmosphere in the meeting made a turn for the worse, as MPs started shouting at and insulting each other.

The right-wing MPs labeled their Arab fellows "traitors" and "terrorist representatives." Some of them wished aloud for "Many more Nakbas to come!”

One extremist MP told the Arab MPs, "If you had been living in a country neighboring Israel, you would not have dared to say a word! You would have been executed, you terrorists!"

Arab MPs responded by describing the extremists as "fascists."

Meanwhile, in commemoration of Nakba Day, the Palestinians who have been living in Israel since 1948 are holding a general strike in Arab towns, institutions and shops, following the High Follow Up Committee for Arab Citizens’ decision, which embraces all political and civilian actors at home.

Several schools participated in the strike, despite the threats that the Israeli Ministry of Education made against them if they participated.

The Regional Association of Arab Student Parents’ Committees responded to the ministry’s threat by supporting the strike and urging students to participate in it on this national anniversary. They viewed this as “an occasion to develop collective awareness among our students by promoting our national identity. Collective awareness and national identity can counter any malady affecting our society,” and that "the Palestinian political prisoners’ hunger strike is at the heart of the decision to have a general strike."

Found in: university of tel aviv, university, right of return, right, nakba day, hunger strike, hunger, extremists, 64th anniversary

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