Thousands of Palestinians took part Sunday in a rally in Gaza City organized by various political factions to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, voicing renewed demands that Palestinians to return to the cities, villages, and lands that they were forced to leave in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel.
Waving Palestine flags, the participants marched from the Unknown Soldier Square to the headquarters of the United Nations.
“Sixty-eight years have passed since the Nakba and our people have never forgotten their homeland, Palestine. We will return,” Fatah member Zakariyya al-Agha said during the rally.
“Let the whole world know that our people will never accept an alternative to this homeland […] no matter how far the distances or how high the occupier’s walls are,” al-Agha said.
He added that all Palestinian factions should close ranks and maintain national unity because “(unity) is the bridge to Palestine and the line of defense in the face of all challenges and obstacles.”
Al-Agha urged the Palestinian leadership to carry out parliamentarian and presidential elections and restructure the PLO to more effectively defend the Palestinian people. A unified Palestinian government, he added, should aim expose the crimes of the Israeli occupation in all international courts in order to return Palestinian land to its rightful owners.
Senior leader of the PLO’s main leftist faction the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Jamil Mizhir echoed al-Agha’s comments, calling for national unity and restructuring the PLO: “Let us hold fast to our land, to the right of return, and to resistance — one generation after the other. We must take advantage of this memory to end rivalries.”
Samir Abu Mudalla, representing the PLO’s other leftist faction the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), also spoke of Palestinians’ right to return to their homes and villages inside present-day Israel.
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“A Palestinian holder of European nationality still dreams of returning to the land of their fathers and grandfathers,” Mudalla said, urging rival factions Hamas and Fatah to take advantage of the memory of the Nakba to end their “odious” disputes.
Hamas also called for national unity on the occasion of the Nakba, underlining that “the rights of return, freedom of prisoners, statehood, and self-determination are inalienable Palestinian rights,” in a statement released on Saturday by the chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mishaal.
Fatah and Hamas have been pitched against one another since Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 and subsequently fought its way to power in the Gaza Strip. A new round of reconciliation talks began in Qatar earlier this year, and senior delegations from the rival Palestinian factions met in April in Gaza City.