Nakba Anniversary: 65 Years Later, Palestinian Refugees Still Can’t Go Home

Sirens cried out for 65 seconds at noon in the West Bank, symbolizing the 65 anniversary of the Nakba, when the state of Israel was formed as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were pushed into exile.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets on Wednesday to protest "the catastrophe." On Tuesday evening in Ramallah, 65 torches were carried from Yasser Arafat's mausoleum to the city center where the Palestinian National Forces band played.

Manwal Awad brought her twin sons with her to the protests in Ramallah, stating that "Every year I bring them with me to inherit the story of our Nakba, and to keep the dream of return." Protestors chanted the slogans "The right of return will not die" and "We shall return."

In the evening, a pre-recorded message by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was played on the Palestinian Authority's television channel. He stated that "In the past, attempts have been made to erase our national identity and memory. But today we are a people whose presence on the world map cannot be ignored."

He continued, noting that "A majority of the world's nations, including the United States, acknowledge our right to an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders."  Abbas reiterated that his government would not accept any proposals that conflicted with the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and that it would not give up on a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

The Right to Return has proved to be a major obstacle in the Arab-Israeli peace process. The International Palestinian Right of Return Coalition, which includes 20 institutions and human rights organizations, sent out a press release for the 65th anniversary, saying, "Arab leaders must understand that without the Right of Return, without justice, there will never be peace in the region. The refugees cause is an essential cause that cannot be compromised or abandoned."

Zakareya el-Agha, a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) senior leader, agreed that U.S. efforts to renew the peace talks "can never succeed without resolving the issue of Palestinian refugees, which is a basic part of the Arab Peace Initiative and all other international resolutions and conventions."

The fate of the Palestinian refugees has become a looming specter in the face of two decades of failed peace talks. Talks broke off four years ago, but there is hope they will resume this year. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will depart for the Middle East in a week to try and reignite peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Kerry announced that all sides were meeting "with a seriousness of purpose that has not been present in a while and we all believe that we are working with a short time span."