- Title: WEST BNAK/FILE: World's biggest key unveiled in West Bank in memory of the Nakba
- Date: 10th May 2008
- Summary: CHILDREN WALKING IN THE STREET
- Embargoed: 25th May 2008 13:00
- Topics: History
- Reuters ID: LVA2C7X5XQ6MUGB0UQJZXSZF6B3I
- Story Text: The world's largest sculpture of a key, symbolising the dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, is to be unveiled in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
While Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, Palestinian refugees mourn the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) when they lost their homeland. Often ignored in Middle East peace talks, they cling to a "right of return".
Dispersed across the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the "1948 refugees", as they are known, are the remnants of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs -- and their descendants -- who were displaced from their homes in the wake of the establishment of a Jewish State in British Mandate Palestine.
Many still carry keys to the homes they or their parents hastily left behind when Arab armies invaded the newly-declared independent state of Israel in 1948.
The "Return Key" has since become a potent symbol in the Palestinian psyche.
"We still think, day and night, about returning to our country. I swear to you I am speaking the truth. Maybe this generation doesn't know much about these matters but someone my age will never forget," says Abdel Majeed Hamad, a 75-year-old resident of the Aida camp in the West Bank who is old enough to recall his youth in what was once Palestine.
"This is the key of my old house. I swear to you, alive or dead, I will return to it, whether they like it or not. If we don't, our children will. If not our children, then our grandchildren," says Yousef Jawabra, 73, the resident of another camp, Aroub.
On Thursday (May 8), refugees marched through the streets of Bethlehem brandishing a giant "return key" -- 10 metres long and weighing 2 tonnes.
"We will return. With our will we will return. It will be a real return," said Um Muhammad, who was participating in the march.
The organisers of the event, the National Committee for the Commemoration of the 60th Nakba in Aida Refugee Camp, say they hope the key will be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest in the world and a symbol of Palestinian dispossession.
"We want something strong. We don't want something that will last for just a day or two and then rust. We want it to remain a national symbol," refugee Muhammad Ayad, who worked on building the giant key, told Reuters.
Seventy-seven-year-old Shams Abu Tair recounts how she was falsely promised a swift Arab victory over Israeli forces and a return to her home within no more than three days.
"We wanted to take our belongings but they said: "Don't take anything. Don't take anything". So we left the doors, the windows, the keys, we took nothing with us. They said we would be back home in three days.
We left the house, the beds... They said we would be back in three days. It's been days and years," she said.
Arab states went to war in 1947 over a United Nations resolution dividing British Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab. They said it was unfair to lose what they deemed ancestral lands to accommodate Jewish immigrants seeking a state after the Nazi Holocaust, in what the Jews saw as a return to their ancient Biblical Jewish homeland.
But the Zionist forces took a larger chunk of Palestine than the one allotted to them under the UN partition plan, and some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled during the 1947/48 hostilities. The Palestinians refer to that entire experience, which also saw the destruction of some 400 Palestinian villages, as the Nakba "Catastrophe".
The Palestinian refugee community today counts some 4.5 million people in the West Bank, Gaza and abroad. Many hope to return to homes in what is now Israel under any future peace accord.
Founded partly on the basis of Jewish claims to biblical land and partly as a haven for survivors of European persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948.
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