International Catholic peace activists held a candlelight vigil in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Thursday evening to mark the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, when Israel was established in the historic land of Palestine and Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.
Around 160 people attending Pax Christi's International Assembly were present, along with Pax Christi member organisations and partners, including Bethlehem's Arab Educational Institute and Kairos Palestine. Many local people joined in as the vigil got underway in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity. The names of Palestinian villages that no longer exist were held, alongside the Assembly banner, 'Pilgrims on the Path to Peace ' and a large sign reading 'Remember the Nakba'.
A chant was sung in Arabic, which meant, 'O God of Peace, grant us Peace' and prayers for peace and justice were said by Pax Christi members in a number of languages, including Portuguese and Kirundi, the national language of Burundi. Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi, spoke of being there to show solidarity to the people of Bethlehem. At the end of the vigil a man, who said his family had lost their home in 1948, took the mic and thanked those at the vigil. "I was not expecting to find you here but I am so happy to see you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart."
More than 700.000 Palestinians were removed from their villages and towns, while at least 530 villages and towns were depopulated and destroyed during the Nakba of 1948. Every 15 May, Palestinians across the West Bank hold vigils and rallies to commemorate the 'Nakba' or 'catastrophe'. The dispute over the fate of those Palestinians and their descendants, now numbering several million people, remains at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
On Tuesday, members of Pax Christi USA, visiting Bethlehem's Aida refugee camp, heard and saw tear gas canisters explode about 150 yards from them, having been fired by Israeli soldiers at a group of boys gathered to commemorate the Nakba.
"Our pilgrimage saw, and experienced, a variety of things today that unfortunately are all too common to many Palestinians - but certainly not for middle class Americans", reflected Bob Cooke, Pax Christi's Baltimore co-coordinator.
Pax Christi USA at http://paxchristiusa.org
Arab Educational Institute www.aeicenter.org
Kairos Palestine www.kairospalestine.ps