Viral video footage on social media in mid-May showed what appeared to be dozens of people storming Lebanon’s border fence barrier with Israel. The protesters waved Palestinian flags and briefly crossed into the country, in a display of solidarity with the Palestinian people and reignited hope for the right of those in the diaspora to return.
In another video, thousands in Jordan rushed to Israel’s frontier and pushed through the fence to gain access to the West Bank shortly before retreating.
“We are here. Either we go down, or they will have to carry us back,” Jordanian demonstrators chanted in the videos. “To Palestine, to Palestine. We are going to Palestine. We are going in millions as martyrs to Palestine.”
In reaction to the demonstrations, Abbas Hamideh, a Palestinian right of return activist, commented in a tweet: “History in the making and absolutely astonishing. Displaced Palestinians in Jordan have managed to enter the West Bank via the Jordan Valley after cutting the border fences. Truly incredible imagery! I have never been more proud to be Palestinian today! Free Palestine!”
The protesters’ overwhelming expression of support for Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem was in response to rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions in East Jerusalem, which began with threats of forced expulsion of some families by Jewish settlers in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and culminated in an 11-day bombing campaign on Gaza.
“What’s happening with the Palestinian people inside Palestine is happening to me personally as a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon.”
“People there are my brothers, we have a shared destiny,” a man called Abu Hazina, in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp, said to The National. “When they get hurt, I get affected psychologically. What’s happening with the Palestinian people inside Palestine is happening to me personally as a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon.”
The rallies along Israel’s northern and eastern borders also coincided with the 73-year anniversary of Nakba Day (May 15), when some 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and forcibly displaced from their homes in the formation of the Israeli state in 1948, never to return to their homeland. Marked by demonstrations every year, it is an extremely symbolic day for Palestinians living across the region.
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The events of the past several weeks have re-energized the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice all over Palestine and beyond. In Jerusalem, the West Bank, within the 1948 borders, and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and the diaspora, Palestinians rose up against Israeli oppression as one people.
The engagement of Palestinians from Jordan and Lebanon in the resistance struggle added an important dimension to the recent developments. Their cross-border participation in the national movement was a historical happening that expanded the extraordinary show of unity amongst Palestinians, in the face of Israel’s ongoing and escalated policies of colonization, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing.
More critically, the twin marches brought a new element to the fight: a widely shared wish to return home. The vast majority of Palestinian refugees are scattered in the Palestinian territories and the surrounding regional nations of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, while Israel disputes their right to return. Yet, despite decades of suffering, Palestinians continue to affirm their right to return to their towns and villages. And more than 70 years after the Nakba, they marched from afar to stand with their people and claim their internationally recognized right, suggesting they will continue to pursue creative ways to achieve this aim.
“Palestinians marching from Jordan and Lebanon back to their homeland right now is making me cry. We are so tired of debating in the international arena whether we have a right to return for far too long, now the right holders are taking it into their own hands,” a Palestinian in the diaspora, with the name of “Malak,” tweeted.
Human Rights Watch described Israel’s refusal to repatriate Arabs displaced in 1948 as a crime against humanity.
In a report it issued last April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) described Israel’s refusal to repatriate Arabs displaced in 1948 as a crime against humanity by way of persecution and apartheid, as set out in the Rome Statute. Not only has it failed to recognize their right under international law to return to their homes (enshrined in the UN Resolution 194), but Palestinian refugees have never received compensation for the loss of their land and property.
Many have been forced to live their whole life in overcrowded camps in dire conditions and do not have access to essential services.
“Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are trapped in a cycle of deprivation and systematic discrimination with no end in sight. For many of them, life is full of suffocating restrictions and has become a living hell,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement two years ago.
Around 60 percent of Jordan’s 10 million-strong population is of Palestinian origin, including some 2.2 million registered Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab Israeli war. Although most of the refugees have acquired Jordanian citizenship, entitling them to access healthcare and education, the 140,000 refugees who went first to Gaza in 1948 and then to Jordan in 1967 do not have legal status nor access to basic services.
The Lebanese government has never recognized Palestinian refugees as having equal rights.
Lebanon counts some 475,075 Palestinian refugees registered with UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Yet, even though the majority were born and raised in the country and have lived there all their lives, the Lebanese government has never recognized them as having equal rights, barring them from working in more than 30 professions and from owning property. Thus, many Palestinian families rely on relatives abroad to send remittances home. Others remain poor and deprived of access to public services, including medical care and schooling.
What should have been a temporary solution for the Palestinians dispersed in the diaspora has now become a home for several generations. But they still claim their sacrosanct right to go back to their ancestral lands in historical Palestine.
Like their people inside Palestine, they resiliently reject the status quo and aspire to a liberated future. Promisingly, it appears the newly rediscovered unity throughout the diaspora can help Palestinians in neighboring countries take further steps in the struggle to pursue their dream of liberation and return.