The eleven martyrs in Maroun el-Ras in southern Lebanon and the four in the occupied Golan Heights on May 15, 2011, were enough to turn the “Return to Palestine March” held across the Arab world into an annual event, and to turn “Al-Nakba Day” into “Return Day”.
This event was also able to put all the Palestinian factions, including the Fatah and Hamas movements, on one page until the latter recently decided not to participate for reasons that seem to be related to regional shifts accompanying the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt and the worsening crisis in Syria.
Today marks the launch of the third annual “Return to Palestine March”, not only in Lebanon, but also in capitals and cities in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Three years ago, over 55 million people gathered to demand the right to return, the majority of who were Palestinians who have never seen their country. The organisers at the time did not expect such a large number of people, and according to the Secretary of “The Global Campaign to Return to Palestine”, Abdul Malek Sukkariyeh, the organisers had to bring buses from Damascus. “On their way to Beirut, the buses were intercepted by the people of Saida Refugee Camp because they wanted to join the convoy.”
This was sufficient in establishing the idea of the campaign and inspired it to become “a form of global pressure” to restore the Palestinian Cause as a top priority, not only in the Arab world, but globally.
The goal today is, according to Sukkariyeh, to follow the advice of the Palestinian writer, Ghassan Kanafani, who says that since the Palestinian Case is the fairest case despite having “a failing lawyer”, we must “change the lawyer, not the case.”
Last year, the “Return March” celebrated Earth Day (March 30, 1976) at Beaufort Castle where activists were joined by 250 foreign supporters and six Rabbis against the Israeli state.
According to Sukkariyeh, year after year, the idea began to sink in that instead of supporters coming to Lebanon, each would work in their own countries to coordinate with events in the Arab countries so “the march will not be limited to the countries surrounding Palestine, but will include 5 continents.” He also noted that the events will not only focus on the Nakba, “but will also mark all the main points of Palestinian history.”
“The Return March-2013” will start off with a sit-in starting at 4 pm this afternoon as a symbolic Palestinian delegation that brings together two generations, the elderly, some of whom lived through the Nakba, and their grandchildren. It will be held in front of the United Nations Headquarters in El- Nakura, where they will hold up a message to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. On the second day (tomorrow), activists will sail on 50 boats to the coast of Tyre in a march passing by the Palestinian refugee camps on the coasts of Jal al-Bahr, Al-Bass and Al-Rashidiya. The idea of a marine march is based on “the concept of immigration by land and sea… and therefore return by land or sea”, Sukkariyeh explained.
On Wednesday, “Nakba Day”, the Campaign will hold the main event in the Mar Elias refugee camp at 4 pm, which will include performances by a number of traditional Palestinian bands.
Maroun El-Ras will also have a role in this year’s event. On Thursday, the families of the 2011 martyrs will place garlands on the borderline.
Maroun El-Ras is also a symbolic site that will always accompany events of “Return Day”, as Sukkariyeh points, the main reason why return marches similar to those organised in 2011 were stopped was because they scared Israel which causing its ally, the United States, to put pressure on the Lebanese government, considering it “a red line and should not be repeated.”
According to the organisers, the activities will include countries from the American continent (such as the US, Canada, Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), Europe (such as Germany, Britain, France, Belgium, Ireland, and Greece), Africa (such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, and Gabon), and Asia which will include events in Arab countries (Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria) and other countries such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan.
Activists in Syria are trying to hold their activities in Al-Yarmouk Refugee Camp, and although it will not be able to due to the current situation, Damascus will not be absent from “Al-Nakba Day”, or to be more accurate, “Return Day”.
In addition to five different sit-ins being held in Morocco, it will also hold a forum announcing the draft law criminalising normalisation. Moreover, Tunisia will hold a cultural demonstration, as well as pitch a “Return Tent”. As for Turkey, it will be organising a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Ankara.
Nigeria will be holding an educational course on the Palestinian Nakba, as well as a festival titled “Return Now to End the Nakba”. Furthermore, Oakland, California will be holding a musical and poetic event, as well as a dialogue session.
In the end, everything will start in Palestine, from the West Bank to Gaza and the Occupied Territories of 1948. Sukkariyeh explained that in the Occupied Territories of 1948, the people will head to the villages they were expelled from, and is simply “march to return to their villages.”