Thousands protest for Palestinian right of return

Thousands rallied in support of Palestinians on Friday, with demonstrators in Jordan's capital heeding a call by Facebook organizers to demand a sovereign Palestinian state, others near the Jordanian-Israeli border chanting "Death to Israel," and still more activists filling Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Palestinian youth groups called for protests in the West Bank and nearby Arab countries to mark the anniversary of the May 15, 1948, creation of the Jewish state. Palestinians call the anniversary the "day of catastrophe" because of the refugee crisis and loss of land that accompanied the creation of Israel.

About 500 protesters, demanding a sovereign Palestinian state and the right of refugees to return home, marched in Amman's downtown market district, some wearing Palestinian black and white kefiyahs or headscarves and holding keys to family homes left behind.

In Cairo, thousands rallied, beginning a Facebook-generated campaign aimed at marching on the borders of the Palestinian territories.

Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood backed Friday's demonstration but did not favor a march to the borders. On Thursday, Egypt's ruling Military Council called on organizers to cancel the march. A few protesters who drove to North Sinai to reach the Gaza border said they were turned back by authorities.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations are not unusual in Jordan or Egypt, but marches solicited on Facebook are. Organizers are apparently inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and other Arab countries that were heavily dependent on mobilization through social network sites.

In Cairo, where the protest was also called to denounce recent Muslim-Christian violence, Palestinian flags filled the square.

"Egypt is Palestine. All Arab nations are Egypt," said Ola Adel, a 20-year-old law student. "This protest is not about forming an army and heading to Gaza. It is about pressuring our officials to support the Palestinians demands."

The slogans reflected changes in the political climate, including the ousting of long-term leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and efforts by the Palestinians to get the United Nations to recognize their independence. "1948 and 1967 are the catastrophes, but 2011 is the Revolution of the Return," some of the protesters' signs read.

"We want to tell the world that Palestine and its refugees are not to be forgotten," said 21-year-old Amman dentistry student Omar Hassan, whose family hails from Bethlehem in the West Bank.

In the Jordan Valley near the Israeli border, nearly 5,000 Jordanians gathered.

"Enough is enough, the Zionist enemy's 43-year occupation of the West Bank is the longest in history," shouted Hamza Mansour, the leader of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition group.

"The occupation is a disgrace for the international community and it must end," added Mansour to loud applause from the crowd, who urged, "death to Israel."

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced during the Israeli-Arab wars in 1948 and 1967, and the fate of nearly four million Palestinian refugees and their descendants is one of the thorniest issues in the Middle East conflict.

Palestinian refugees live in a number of countries in the Middle East. Jordan hosts the largest number, and the refugees and their descendants are estimated to number nearly two million.

The Palestinians have long maintained that the refugees have a moral and legal right to return to what was once Palestine — including land which is now Israel. But Israel has argued that granting the right of return would compromise the country's identity as the world's only Jewish state.


Associated Press Writers Jamal Halaby in Southern Shuneh, Jordan, and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed reporting.