Hundreds of people attended a ceremony Monday afternoon to mark Nakba Day in front of the main entrance to Tel Aviv University. The ceremony was organized by students – both Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel - and billed as a joint memorial ceremony aimed at giving voice to the Palestinian narrative of suffering following the events of 1948. Organizers emphasized that the event did not seek to reject Israel’s right to exist.
One of the organizers of the event, Rula Khalaily, a student at the university and an activist with the Hadash Party, told +972 about the goal of the event:
Before the ceremony began, a group of between 200 and 300 right-wing protesters, including MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), screamed and chanted slogans such as “We brought a Nakba onto you” (to the tune of “We Come to Greet You in Peace”), “No to fascist Islam” and “go back to Syria.” They waved Israeli flags and signs that read, “Left-wing traitors.” A few wore shirts that said “Sheikh Munis Solidarity,” a play on words mocking the Sheikh Jarrah solidarity movement and referring to the destroyed Palestinian village on which Tel Aviv University was built.
They were making so much noise utilizing a bullhorn and air horns that it was impossible to hear the ceremony, which included a minute of silence marred by disruption.
Palestinian participants shared their families’ personal stories of displacement and read off the names of villages destroyed in 1948. They asked the crowd to try and ignore the disruptive protesters and avoid engaging in any confrontations with them. The police constantly had to prevent the rightists from getting close to those conducting the ceremony.
At one point a man ran over and grabbed a large banner being held by some students that said “Nakba” and tried to tear it up, but was stopped by the police, who took his ID and escorted him away. A total of three people were reportedly arrested.
I asked a young man (wearing an Israeli flag as a cape) why he came to disrupt the event and what bothered him. “If they want to protest they should do so in their universities in Bir Zeit and not at my university.” He added that his problem is not so much with the Arabs here but with the Jews showing solidarity with them. When asked why not respect the right of these citizens of Israel to conduct their ceremony in peace without disruption, he and others responded that it is a democratic country and he can scream and shout all he wants. “We came here with the specific goal of disrupting the event,” he said.
A Palestinian participant of the ceremony who was visibly upset by the protesters at one point started shouting towards them: “You are Zionists, you are not Jews. Maimonides was an Arab. You are Zionists, not Jews.”
Although the Tel Aviv University dean of students approved the ceremony, the university distanced itself from the event by demanding the students pay for their own security and banned the use of a sound system and Palestinian flags. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar called the event “outrageous” and urged the university president to reconsider permitting the event to take place.
This was the first high profile Nakba commemoration to take place since the High Court of Justice’s decision to uphold the law last January. The “Nakba Law,” which was first passed on March 22, 2011, grants the Finance Minister the authority to limit the public funding of institutions that commemorate the Nakba.