MAROUN AL RAS, LEBANON // Abu Tawfiq Baraka was among the thousands of Palestinians who descended yesterday on this border town for a demonstration commemorating 63 years since Nakba, or catastrophe.
Seated on a wall overlooking the valley and into what is now Israel, the 77-year-old said he remembered leaving what was then Palestine as a 14-year-old. "I came today because I have to return to Palestine," he said, holding up a plaque with a rusted key, which he said was for his family's home in the village of Safouria.
At least 10 people were killed yesterday and scores injured when the Israeli army opened fire on the hundreds of demonstrators who swarmed towards Lebanon's fenced border with Israel.
"We tried to do a peaceful and civilised demonstration on this day of return," said Abdul Malak Sukariya, one of the organisers of the march. "The people were demonstrating and shouting for the right to return and the Israeli army shot to kill. But this is nothing new for the Israeli army."
There are about 250,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon in 12 refugee camps across the country. Yesterday, thousands of Palestinian men, women, children and the elderly, along with some Lebanese, travelled for the 'Return to Palestine' demonstration which was organised largely through Facebook.
On the route south taken by the long convoy of buses, green signs dotted the sides of the road. "50 kilometres to Palestine" read one.
Many of those making the trip to the border wore the black-and-white kaffiyeh scarf, or held aloft Palestinian flags. On a string around the necks of others were homemade identification cards, with details such as which city, town or village their family fled in 1948 amid the violence surrounding the creation of the state of Israel.
Abed, a 20-year-old living in the Bekaa valley, whose family is from Safad in what is now Israel, said he got closer yesterday to his homeland than ever before. His shirt streaked with blood, Abed said he saw at least three people shot. He then helped rush them to ambulances.
"People started to throw stones and then they shot at us," he said. "We wanted to be close to our country."
Nearby, Mohammed Ali, 37, was taking stock of what had happened after helping the injured to safety.
"I lay down as soon as the shooting started. When I got up again, some of the people we were with, they fell," he said. "We came here to tell Israel that we are going back to our country. We're not going to live here [in Lebanon] forever. I want my three children to know that Palestine is our country and Yaffa is our city."
The Lebanese caretaker prime minister Saad Hariri said in a statement: "Lebanon considers the Israeli firing on peaceful demonstrators on our southern border is a blatant and intolerable aggression."