Reactions in the Arab World to Nakba Day Events

The Nakba Day demonstrations in which protesters marched on the Israeli border, in some cases breaching it and entering Israeli territory, evoked varying reactions in the Arab world. Some officials and columnists in Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas supported the marches, saying that their main message was that no concessions would be made regarding the refugees’ right of return. Conversely, an editorial in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram expressed reservations about the marches, questioning their benefit to the Palestinian cause, and an editorial in the London-based Saudi paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, by the daily’s editor, Tariq Alhomayed – known for his criticism of the Syrian regime – accused Syria of encouraging these marches with the aim of distracting the world from its brutal oppression of its own citizens.

The following are excerpts from a sample of articles:   

Egyptian Daily Al-Ahram: The Nakba Day Events Might Harm the Palestinian Cause

An editorial in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram said that the marches were likely to harm the Palestinian cause: “Nobody can doubt the Egyptian’s affiliation with and love for Palestine, and everyone knows the extent of the sacrifices that Egypt has made and is still making for the sake of the Palestinian cause. However, this love and [sense of] affiliation do not keep [us] from asking whether it is in the interest of both sides, Egypt and the Palestinians, to [stage] a mass march towards the Egypt-Palestine border at the present time.

“Some might say that doing so is entirely in the interest [of both sides], and they surely have grounds [for saying so]. But [others] opine that such demonstrations and marches are harmful to the Palestinian cause, for several reasons. First, they create a problematic situation vis-à-vis the Israeli side. Is it in the national interest to provoke Israel at present, and to open up new fronts [of conflict]? Is this really the right time? Second, everyone knows that security within Egypt has not been fully restored, and that the government is making an effort to provide safety in the streets, cities, and squares by reorganizing the police force. Is it wise to diffuse the efforts of the security forces by [sending them] to additional areas? Isn’t our current situation enough [for them to handle]? Third, what can these marches toward the border achieve? Does anyone imagine, for example, that we are capable of fighting Israel? Have we considered what the Israeli response [might be] to such mass [demonstrations]? Fourth, do we Egyptians need to prove our sympathy for our brothers in Gaza? Is there any doubt about this sympathy? At present, considering the delicate circumstances currently prevailing in the entire Arab region, is this the right way to defend the Palestinians? Fervor, outbursts of emotion, and a desire to declare love are necessary at times, but it is always necessary for wisdom to prevail. Perhaps we should think a little [before acting].”[1]

PA Media and Officials: The Arab Revolutions Have Put an End to Bartering and Haggling over the Right of Return

PA Foreign Ministry official ‘Adli Sadeq, who is also a columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wrote: “The revolutions in the Arab world – those that have [already] triumphed and those that are still underway – have put an end to bartering and haggling over the right of return.”[2]

Tallal ‘Awkal, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, wrote: “The popular Palestinian and Arab action that materialized yesterday caused embarrassment to all the countries and forces that support Israel, strengthen it, and protect it. Those who condemn the Arab [regimes] for oppressing protesters who are demanding change, and for deploying [fighter jets against demonstrators] on the pretext of defending the citizenry, must prove their credibility, and must show that they respect themselves and their people by firmly opposing the Israeli oppression [as well]. The clear message that is conveyed by yesterday’s Nakba Day events and broadcast to all corners of the globe, is that the Palestinian will not relinquish his right to return [to his home] and to receive compensation, and that peace cannot be achieved unless this right is guaranteed.”[3]

Hamas Official: This Is the Beginning of the Third Intifada

The deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Baher of Hamas, issued a communiqué stating that the Palestinian popular action inside and outside the Palestinian territories heralded a third intifada that would turn the tables on Israel and redraw the map of the struggle, basing it on the proper national principles. He added that the clashes between the Israeli army and the demonstrators heralded a new era of hope and the imminent withdrawal of the brutal occupation, and reflected the fragility and weakness of the occupying entity in the face of the Palestinian determination.[4]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Syria Interested in Exacerbating the Nakba Day Events

The editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed, wrote that Syria was interested in exacerbating the Nakba Day events, and was willing to sacrifice every last Palestinian in order to draw attention away from the events within its own borders: “The unprecedented events [that occurred] in the Golan Heights and in South Lebanon on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba indicate that Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf really meant it when he said [in a May 10 interview for The New York Times] that if there was no stability in Syria there would be no stability in Israel…

“Damascus is ready to sacrifice every last Palestinian in order to achieve its own goals without firing a single shot, not even in the air. Today we are seeing a disgraceful attempt to exploit the anniversary of the Nakba by storming the Israeli-Syrian border via the occupied Golan and South Lebanon. This means that Damascus has decided to distract the world from its barbaric suppression of the peaceful protests on its own soil…

“It is frustrating that conflicts break out not for the sake of liberating [land] but in order to prolong the life of the Syrian regime. This is shameful evidence of the extent to which the Palestinian cause is exploited. It also indicates that Syria is incapable, at least at present, of bringing Hamas’ rockets into action in Gaza. Nor has Hizbullah fired any rockets… This means that Hamas is no longer relying on the Syrian regime, and that Hizbullah knows full well that the Arab world feels no solidarity with it.”[5]

Editor of Syrian Daily: Either Martyrdom of Return

The editor of the Syrian daily Teshreen, Mounir Al-Wadi, wrote: “Does the U.N. know that the part of the Golan that lies between the occupied region and the liberated lands is a demilitarized zone, where the presence of all military forces is banned? How could the U.N. ‘peacekeeping [forces]’ allow the Zionist enemy to fire live ammunition at unarmed civilians… Is [the U.N.] present there only in order to defend the occupation forces?

“The Palestinians, who upheld their right of return… were subjected to [a barrage of] bullets, live ammunition, and tear gas grenades fired by the occupation soldiers. As a result, dozens of civilians were martyred or wounded, most of them fatally, only because they came close to [the village of] Majdal Shams and to the other occupied lands in Palestine and South Lebanon. This Israeli terrorism took place in front of the entire world and the U.N. forces, [yet] nobody lifted a finger, because, according to the U.N.’s outlook, human rights do not apply to these civilians.

“May 15, [2011] is a new milestone in the Israeli-Arab conflict. It will be go down [in history] as the beginning of the Palestinian refugees’ journey of return to the villages and homes from which they were forcefully expelled following the Nakba of 1948. For 63 years, the efforts and resolutions of the U.N. and of the [other] international bodies and organization failed to restore the deported refugees to their cities and villages. On the contrary, during these decades, the Zionist occupation forces expelled more Palestinian Arab civilians…

“In light of this appalling international failure to implement the [U.N.] resolutions, the [Palestinian] people has now set forth to determine its fate with its own hands and restore its rights, [standing] bare-chested [before the enemy]. It is either martyrdom or return. It is impossible to wait decades more before [restoring] the usurped rights… The road to Palestine has become easier now that the people’s spirit of resistance has been restored to its former brilliance… The journey of return has begun, and there is no turning back from the road of (popular) liberation and national resistance until all the occupied lands and all the legal rights of the Arab people are restored.”[6]

Columnist in Jordanian Daily: Israel Has Been Consigned to the Book of Deaths

Editorials in the Jordanian government press refrained from praising the Nakba Day protests, but the papers did publish op-eds in this vein. An editorial in the daily Al-Dustour made no mention of the march that set out towards Allenby Bridge on the Israel-Jordan border, but chose instead to emphasize the importance of adhering to the right of return. It said: “King ‘Abdallah has on more than one occasion emphasized the refugees’ right of return, stressing clearly that there can be no just solution [to the Palestinian problem] without the return of the refugees to their land, according to [U.N.] resolution 194, [without] Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, and [without] the withdrawal of the Zionist occupation forces from all the occupied Arab lands…

“Reality has proven that the only response to the ongoing Zionist aggression, manifest in the rejection of the international resolutions, is to uphold the refugees’ right to return to their homes… and to refrain from bartering and haggling over this sacred right. The U.N. assembly has reiterated [its commitment to] this right over 10 times since 1948, which indicates that the international community wants to see this right realized and wants to see an end to the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, who now number over 6 million and are living in squalid refugee camps…”[7]

Al-Dustour columnist Hilmi Al-Asmar wrote: “I have seen 53 Nakba Days in my life, but this year, for the first time, I feel that our Nakba Day has a new scent: [it smacks of] a belated victory and of the dream of return, which people have kept buried for 63 years. This year’s Nakba Day marks the beginning of the third intifada, which was born in the squares of freedom in the Arab countries and is [now] reverberating in Jaffa and Jerusalem. It is no coincidence that its first martyr, who has been buried in [Jerusalem] Old City, is called Milad ‘Ayyash.[8] This is the birth of a new life, clothed in popular victories, and celebrations of smashing the statues of [tyrants], throwing traitors behind bars, and bringing the thieves of the people’s money to justice.

“The morning of this year’s Nakba Day is different from all other mornings in the past 63 years. It is a morning that consigns the name ‘Israel’ to the book of deaths, and writes down the name ‘Palestine,’ complete from the river to the sea, in the book of births… The liberation of Palestine is no longer a dream, after the birth of the freedom squares of the Arab world… This year’s Nakba Day is the day of the Nakba’s death. It is time to wrap it in a shroud and bury it… A people capable of staging a revolution and attaining its freedom is also able to bury its Nakba [i.e., disaster] and turn it into the day of its return.”[9]

Al-Quds Al-Arabi Editor: The Flames of the Arab Revolution Are Licking at the Hem of Israel’s Cloak

In Jordan, Syria, and the PA, it was claimed that this years’ Nakba Day was special in that it brought the Palestinians closer to realizing the right of return. The editor of the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, ‘Abd Al-Bari ‘Atwan, wrote: “These popular marches were the largest that ever took place since the occupation of Palestine, all of Palestine. [The marches that set out] from the north, south, east, and west were a true realization of the right of return… I have never seen the Israelis as frightened and horrified as they were yesterday…. because the people marching towards the border were peaceful [demonstrators] who carried [only] the flags of beloved Palestine and competed with one another over [the privilege of achieving] martyrdom, [each wanting] to be the first to seek martyrdom for the sake of this land that is pining for its people and sons, and is thirsty for their sacred blood.

“Perhaps this was a dress rehearsal for what is to come. For what will the Israeli soldiers do if tens of millions of Arabs and Muslims march on the borders of historical Palestine? Will they open fire and kill them all? Will they drop an atomic bomb?

“The popular Arab revolutions that overthrew the corrupt and oppressive regimes… herald the greatest revolution of all, which will end the [Israeli] oppression, liberate the holy places, and put an end to all the forms of Israeli arrogance… The flames of the blessed Arab revolution are licking at the hem of Israel’s cloak, [thus] shifting the attention back to the source of the problems, terrorism and instability – not only in our region but in the entire world. As long as Israel’s oppression continues, it will know no stability, and neither will the Western world that is supporting it, defending it and justifying its crimes and its wars.

“I say with my heart full of pride: Thank you to the martyrs of Maroun Al-Rass, of the Golan Heights, of the West Bank, and of Gaza. Thank you to all the martyrs of the Arab revolution, without exception, for restoring [meaning] to our lives, along with a scent of honor, power and the hope of imminent victory.”[10]

Sources:

[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 14, 2011.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 16, 2011.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 16, 2011.

[4] Palestine-info.info, May 15, 2011.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 16, 2011.

[6] Teshreen (Syria), May 16, 2011.

[7] Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 15, 2011.

[8] A 16-year-old boy who was killed on May 13, 2011 in the course of protests in Jerusalem. “Milad” means “birth,” and “‘Ayyash” means “he who lives long.”

[9] Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 16, 2011.

[10] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 16, 2011.

The Middle East Media Research Institute

Special Dispatch

May 16, 2011

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