Palestinians commemorated the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, the “day of catastrophe”, in which Israel was officially declared a state following the forced removal of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and the destruction of over 500 villages and towns.
People across historic Palestine – including Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – held rallies, marches and candlelight vigils on Monday, as well as sounding sirens.
Israel has made publicly commemorating the Nakba increasingly difficult for Palestinians, with a “Nakba Law” that authorises Israel’s finance minister to revoke funding from institutions that reject Israel’s character as a “Jewish state” or mark the country’s “Independence Day” as a day of mourning.
At least 11 Palestinians were injured after Israeli troops fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas at demonstrators outside of the Beit El settlement and military base near Ramallah, according to emergency workers.
Thousands of people in the central West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem poured into the streets carrying Palestinian flags and keys symbolic of the “right of return” for refugees who lost their homes during the Nakba.
Monday also marks the 29th day of a hunger strike launched by 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Prisoners’ children are expected to deliver speeches following the march in the West Bank.
Marwan Barghouti, a hunger striker and jailed Palestinian leader, urged Palestinians to engage in civil disobedience on Nakba day.
Barghouti, who has reportedly lost 13 kilograms so far in the course of his hunger strike, vowed to continue until the prisoners’ demands were met.
Prisoners are calling for better medical services, installation of a public telephone in all prisons to allow communication with relatives, more visitation rights with family members as well as other improved conditions.
At a Nakba protest in Ramallah, Mahmoud Ziadeh, father of political prisoner and hunger striker Majd Ziadeh, told Al Jazeera: “My son and the other political prisoners are only fighting for freedom. We are people like everyone else; we have mothers, we have colour in our eyes, we love. But unlike other people, we don’t have a homeland.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who participated in the failed Oslo Accords to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli occupation, has demanded an Israeli apology over the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.
“Our nation marking 69 years of the Nakba, our national catastrophe, is symbolised in our exile and the systematic denial of our rights,” said Erekat in a statement.
Palestinian refugees of the Nakba and their descendants have lived and outside of Palestine since 1948, with millions of them still stateless or languishing in surrounding refugee camps.
Israel has prevented them from returning to their homes. Palestinians have cited UN Resolution 194 that they say preserves their “Right to Return” to Palestine.
Generations of Palestinians who remain in Palestine know nothing but a life under military occupation.
“For me, I was born under occupation. I was raised under occupation. I live every day under occupation,” Palestinian journalist Elyia Gorbia told Al Jazeera at the demonstration in Ramallah.
“It’s only getting worse. They are increasing their occupation strategy, the settlements are expanding, and more lands are being confiscated to build settlements. The number of prisoners in jails is also increasing. Daily attacks are increasing,” she said.