Palestinians who lost their homes or their lives in conflict following the creation of an Israeli state in 1948 are those remembered in Nakba, the Arabic word for cataclysm or catastrophe.
"In this day of mourning, the Israeli state was founded as a result of a colonial conspiracy and was established on Palestinian lands whose residents were expelled and massacred," said Arafat.
In a speech broadcasted by the Palestinian Authority-run local channel, Arafat said that he will not "accept humiliation and Israeli colonialism and the Israeli aggression carried out against Palestinians and their holy sites." Israel must withdraw from all the lands it occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their homes, he insisted.
"For the past 55 years, martyrs, have fallen for the sake of the homeland, freedom and the return of the refugees," he said in the speech from his offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Every Palestinian refugee knows that his identity will be restored to him only upon the return of his homeland, and he will not be submissive to a patron."
Various estimates number Palestinian refugees between 2 million and 5 million, with the largest populations in surrounding countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. About 2 million Palestinians remain in the territories and 2 million Israelis in the state of Israel.
Arafat condemned what he described as "the subjugation of the land and the holy places by the Israeli occupation." He said he welcomed peace as the "strategic choice of the Palestinian nation" but accused the Israeli "rule of strength" of delaying peace initiatives in the region.
"Who can say that the elders die and the younger forget their history, for all those who say that the Palestinians don't exist, I say that we are still here," Arafat stated.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered on Thursday in a massive march in the Gaza Strip in commemoration of Nakba. The protesters sat in a number of tents set in the Palestinian Council's yard and raised banners carrying the names of the Palestinian villages and towns raided by Israeli guerillas in 1948.
The marchers listened to Arafat's speech broadcasted through loudspeakers from his presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he has been besieged for over than a year by the Israeli Army.
The Islamic Jihad (Holy War) Movement on Thursday called on the Palestinian Authority new cabinet to resign and hold the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fully responsible for its resignation.
Mohammad Al-Hindi, an Islamic Jihad representative, said, "The Israeli military escalation is a clear message to PA (Palestinian Authority) newly appointed Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas that Israel refuses the implementation of the road map."