On Wednesday, millions of Palestinians all over the world will commemorate the 65th anniversary of the day they call the Youm Al-Nakba
(‘Day of Catastrophe’) when around 750,000 Palestinians were forced to leave the country following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
UN decisions, a lost war by Arab troops against the Israelis and international support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine paved the way for this result six decades ago.
But an important question remains for the nation seeking a state: what are the next steps for Palestinians in 2013?
It's time to protest
Traditionally, Palestinians have organised a series of events in the occupied territories on Nakba day, revolving mainly around protests.
This year peaceful rallies and marches in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Birzeit, Hebron, Qalqiliya, Tubas, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem will mark the day.
Some activities have already begun. On Tuesday, a march – led by children of the Duheisha refugee camp – made its way through the city of Hebron. Marchers, however, were eventually tear-gassed by Israeli police, according to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
Israel’s security forces are generally on high alert ahead of Nakba commemorations. In the past, there have often been clashes with Palestinian demonstrators.
On 10 May, residents of Al-Walaja village marched to the area of Ain Joezeh, where Israeli occupation forces had effectively cut the town off from Bethlehem and converted it into an “open-air prison,” according to the event's Facebook page.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the online Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, told Ahram Online that such commemorations aim to “keep the Palestinian cause alive.”
“It's important however not to see the Nakba as a past historical event to be ‘commemorated’ but to recognise that the Nakba, which started in 1947 (and indeed before) has never ended. It is an ongoing process of colonisation,” said Abunimah.
This year there will be a number of enriching events to mark the Nakba. Panel discussions, film screenings, art exhibitions and theatre performances are planned in the West Bank.
However, Linah Alsaafin, a Ramallah-based Palestinian blogger and reporter, says that the day often feels celebratory, something she takes issue with.
“City squares are filled with people, a stage is set up, politicians (the same ones who have no qualms in conceding to Israel) make a few speeches, and dabka troupes and singers perform, all contributing to an atmosphere like that of a festival, and not the darkest day in Palestinian history.”
'Boycotting is not enough'
Since Palestinians cannot restore their land via negotiations, other pressuring tools may help a bit.
Direct talks with Israeli officials collapsed in 2010. Israel refused to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians, to draw borders between an Israeli and Palestinian state and to give Palestinian refugees the right to return to their land.
The global campaign of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which is led by the largest worldwide coalition of Palestinian rights and civil society groups, seemed a viable alternative to negotiations.
Millions have joined the academic, cultural, and economic boycott of Israel.
One instance was the recent decision by Cambridge University physicist Stephen Hawking, who pulled out of a conference organised by Israeli President Shimon Peres that had attracted hundreds of leading world figures.
“The peace process is dead. The future of Palestine will not be decided through an Oslo framework that, 20 years out, serves only as a perpetual conflict management system for Israel and international donors,” Joe Catron, a US activist in Gaza who works in support of the BDS asserted.
“Even recent statements by the European Union and Washington indicate they realise this charade has neared its end. For international solidarity activists who support the refugees' struggle through BDS other strategies, mass leadership by Palestinians is essential.”
Yet, Maath Musleh, a Jerusalem-based lecturer at the Al-Quds Bard Partnership, argues that boycotting is not enough.
“We cannot fool ourselves; the boycott helps, but it's not enough. In South Africa, the Apartheid regime was brought down with the help of a boycott as well. It could be seen as a form of accelerant, but we have a lot to do here on the ground,” he stated.
Israel neither returns land, nor wants peace
As Palestinians are busy preparing for the Nakba protests, Israel has no time to waste on issues other than its settlement plans.
Six days before the Nakba anniversary, Israel’s Civil Administration green lit the building of 296 housing units at Beit El near Ramallah.
The Israeli government has explained that the construction plans were part of a “compensatory measure” for settlers who were evicted last from an unauthorised outpost on the outskirts of Beit El called Ulpana.
The fact that this happened shortly before the Nakba commemoration is not significant, argues Kamel Hawwash, a British-Palestinian professor at the University of Birmingham.
“What is more significant is that Israel's spin on this is that settlement building does not impact on the peace process because the problem isn't 'land' but the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state.”
The UN General Assembly vote on 29 November to recognise Palestine as a non-member state did not mean much to Israel.
One month later, the government announced a plan involving the building of 2,610 homes in East Jerusalem and tenders for 1,048 units in the West Bank.
In 2012, 6,676 settler housing units in the occupied West Bank were approved, compared with 1,607 in 2011 and several hundred in 2010, Reuters reported.
Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian blogger in the West Bank, put part of the blame on the Palestinians themselves.
“The coverage of such actions by Palestinian media is not a major focus, and thus only a minority is truly aware of these recent actions by Israel,” she said.
“Furthermore, there has been a desensitisation among the Palestinian masses because the Palestinian Authority, which is supposed to be dealing with such issues, is not moving forward with any direct action to halt settlement expansion by Israel,” Barghouti concluded.