by Fatima AbdulKarim
RAMALLAH, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Palestinians marked 69 years of the 1948 war on Monday, commemorating the forced displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians from their home towns due to the establishment of the State of Israel.
For Palestinians, this day dubbed as Nakba, meaning "catastrophe," is a day to remember the painful path of refugees and to stress the right of return, based on a just resolution of their continued dilemma.
The exodus of Palestinians between 1947 and 1949 lead to the evacuation and eventually the erasure of some 500 villages and localities originally inhabited by Palestinians, according to studies that were made by Palestinian and Israeli researchers such as Benny Morris, Rashid Khalidi and Salman Abu Sitta.
The descendants of Palestinians refugees now are estimated to be well over five million Palestinians, still living as refugees in different places around the world and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, most of them were registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in Near East (UNRWA).
In Gaza, over 1.2 million refugees are registered, while in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the number of refugees is estimated at around 750,000.
Many refugees still hold the keys to their old homes inside what has now become Israel, and have hope that they will return one day.
Palestinian top level officials have repeatedly affirmed that the right of return is an inalienable right that must be honored in any peace deal with Israel, and they still believe that the international community must shoulder the responsibility of the outcomes of 69 years of non-settling the issue of refugees.
Secretary General of the Palestinian People's Party Bassam Salhi, who is a refugee himself, described the situation of Palestinian refugees as a "universal injustice."
He told Xinhua that on this day "the message is that this is a historic injustice that the Palestinian people suffered from by the world, especially Britain and Europe, and the world must correct its mistake by forcing Israel to end the occupation and establishing the Palestinian state."
A survivor from the 1948 war, Mahira Orabi, joined the central march at the West Bank Ramallah city on Monday, holding up her key, wearing a traditional embroidered dress. She said that she will not forget, and she will pass on the house key to her children and grandchildren, because "one day, they will return."
Holding up the key with her left hand, she said "we left our homes and were exiled from our homes while we held on to our home key. For 69 years we have held this key to remind us that we have a home, we have a land and a homeland, to which we must return. There is no alternative to the right of return, whatsoever."
Meanwhile, around 25 km to the north of Ramallah city, an advanced new city with a fortress-like tall buildings surround neighborhoods and a top notch commercial center make a nearly 1.3 billion U.S. dollars project known as Rawabi, which is a representation of high risk investment in a highly politicized scene.
From afar, Rawabi and its overlooking hilltops look like Jewish settlements that take over hundreds of acres of lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but it is the brainchild of Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar Masri, whose aim is to build a completely new Palestinian city with striking infrastructure that is almost not paralleled in the West Bank. It includes a modern and attractive commercial city that hosts international brands and high end entertainment, and a light industrial park that will employ Palestinians and serves the Palestinian national economy, possibly with cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian businesses.
With that, Masri, 56, hopes to blow a breeze of hope into the two state solution, and in the same time, add to the Palestinian scene a model city that accommodates needs of middle class Palestinians and young couples, offering a relaxed atmosphere and a cool breeze coming west from the Mediterranean it overlooks.
To him, the city is a major employment generation magnet, on a long-term plan of almost ten years.
Masri, who is the Founding and Managing Director of Bayti Real Estate Company, which was established to overlook the new city building, said "Rawabi is the largest project in the history of Palestine, and one of the main goals of the project is economic development. It generates 10,000 jobs over 12 year period in a small place, and the more important economic impact of Rawabi is, the domino effect that Rawabi will create to see more projects like Rawabi. I anticipate in the next five to ten years, Rawabi would have created, with the domino effect, some 50,000 jobs."
Over the coming decade, the city could become home to 40,000, but as the new city started to sell out apartments, its residents are only 2,500.
Masri said that there is still plenty of room for worldwide investment in Rawabi, adding that "among the top nations that we (Rawabi) could cooperate with, definitely China would be on the top."
"Chinese companies are known to be large, aggressive and long term. They don't think just short term like many companies do; they're not in for immediate profit. We need that, especially in construction, industries as well as investments. A lot of Chinese companies that do have the funds are investing all over the world, and we would like to see a small amount of money invested here," he said
Chen Xingzhong, head of the Office of the People's Republic of China to the State of Palestine, said he was impressed to see the city as it stands today with great prospects for the future of Palestinian economy, stressing the need to see such projects develop and prosper.
He said "I believe that there are good chances for cooperation between both sides, not only in the economic sector, but also cultural, educational and humanitarian fields."
Year after year, Palestinians count their achievements and their setbacks on a day like this, which is a chance to reflect on the past years of struggle, especially on the track of state building, while projects like Rawabi and the attraction of investments in the land, construction sector and humanitarian development becomes a way forward.