Nakba Day

Sunday, 15 May 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  14 minutes

Al Nakba graffiti in Nazareth © PRA/cc-by-sa-4.0

Al Nakba graffiti in Nazareth © PRA/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Nakba (lit.: “disaster”, “catastrophe”, or “cataclysm”), also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe, was the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian Arabs. The term is also used to describe the ongoing persecution, displacement, and occupation of the Palestinians, both in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps throughout the region. The foundational events of the Nakba took place during and shortly after the 1947–1949 Palestine war, including 78% of Mandatory Palestine being declared as Israel, the exodus of 700,000 Palestinians, the related depopulation and destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages and subsequent geographical erasure, the denial of the Palestinian right of return, the creation of permanent Palestinian refugees and the “shattering of Palestinian society”. The most important long-term implications of the Nakba for the Palestinian people were the loss of their homeland, the fragmentation and marginalization of their national community, and their transformation into a stateless people. The term Nakba actually refers to the murder and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages and their dispossession, which continues to this day in violation of international law. Official Israel tries to give a different narrative by insinuating that Nakba would refer to the founding of Israel.

In 1998, Yasser Arafat proposed that Palestinians should mark the 50th anniversary of the Nakba declaring 15 May, the day after Israeli independence in 1948, as Nakba Day, formalizing a date that had been unofficially used as early as 1949. As Israel marks events by the Hebrew calendar, Israeli Independence Day usually does not fall on the same day as Nakba Day. The Nakba greatly influenced the Palestinian culture and is a foundational symbol of Palestinian identity, together with “Handala“, the keffiyeh and the symbolic key. Countless books, songs and poems have been written about the Nakba. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish described the Nakba as “an extended present that promises to continue in the future.” The Nakba encompasses the displacement, dispossession, statelessness and fracturing of Palestinian society.

During the 1947–49 Palestine war, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, comprising around 80% of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of what became Israel. Almost half of this figure (approximately 250,000–300,000 Palestinians) had fled or had been expelled ahead of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in May 1948, a fact which was named as a casus belli for the entry of the Arab League into the country, sparking the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. In the period after the war, a large number of Palestinians attempted to return to their homes; between 2,700 and 5,000 Palestinians were killed by Israel during this period, the vast majority being unarmed and intending to return for economic or social reasons. At the same time, a significant proportion of those Palestinians who remained in Israel became internally displaced. In 1950, UNRWA estimated that 46,000 of the 156,000 Palestinians who remained inside the borders demarcated as Israel by the 1949 Armistice Agreements were internally displaced refugees. Today some 274,000 Arab citizens of Israel – or one in four in Israel – are internally displaced from the events of 1948 (1948 Palestinian exodus, Palestinian refugees and Present absentee).

Before, during and after the 1947–49 war, hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed. Geographic names throughout the country were erased and replaced with Hebrew names, sometimes derivatives of the historical Palestinian nomenclature, and sometimes new inventions. Numerous non-Jewish historical sites were destroyed, not just during the wars, but in a subsequent process over a number of decades. For example, over 80% of Palestinian village mosques have been destroyed, and artefacts have been removed from museums and archives. A variety of laws were promulgated in Israel to legalize the expropriation of Palestinian land (Depopulated Palestinian locations in Israel, Hebraization of Palestinian place names, Israeli land and property laws § The ‘Absentees Property Law’, and Israeli demolition of Palestinian property).

Palestinian towns and villages depopulated during the 1947–1949 Palestine war © Wiki Commons Al Nakba graffiti in Nazareth © PRA/cc-by-sa-4.0 Palestinian Refugees in Galilee © Fred Csasznik Palestinian refugees © Fred Csasznik
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Palestinian towns and villages depopulated during the 1947–1949 Palestine war © Wiki Commons
The creation of Palestinian statelessness is a central component of the Nakba and continues to be a feature of Palestinian national life to the present day. All Arab Palestinians became immediately stateless as a result of the Nakba, although some took on other nationalities. After 1948, Palestinians ceased to be simply Palestinian, instead becoming either Israeli-Palestinians, UNRWA Palestinians, West Bank-Palestinians, and Gazan-Palestinians, in addition to the wider Palestinian diaspora who were able to achieve residency outside of historic Palestine and the refugee camps. The first Israeli Nationality Law, passed on 14 July 1952, denationalized Palestinians, rendering the former Palestinian citizenship “devoid of substance”, “not satisfactory and is inappropriate to the situation following the establishment of Israel”.

The Nakba was the primary cause of the Palestinian diaspora; at the same time Israel was created as a Jewish homeland, the Palestinians were turned into a “refugee nation” with a “wandering identity”. Today a majority of the 13.7 million Palestinians live in the diaspora, i.e. they live outside of the historical area of Mandatory Palestine, primarily in other countries of the Arab world. Of the 6.2 million people registered by the UN’s dedicated Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, about 40% live in the West Bank and Gaza, and 60% in the diaspora. A large number of these diaspora refugees are not integrated into their host countries, as illustrated by the ongoing tension of Palestinians in Lebanon or the 1990–91 Palestinian exodus from Kuwait. These factors have resulted in a Palestinian identity of “suffering”, whilst the deterritorialization of the Palestinians has created a uniting factor and focal point in the desire to return to their lost homeland (Palestinian refugees, Arabs of Israel, and Palestinian nationalism).

The period of the Nakba is the “other side of the coin” of the period which many Jewish Israelis refer to as the birth of the state of Israel and their “War of Independence”. Jewish Israelis commonly perceive the 1948 war and its outcome as an equally formative and fundamental event – as an act of justice and redemption for the Jewish people after centuries of historical suffering, and the key step in the “negation of the Diaspora“. As a result, the narrative is extremely sensitive to the Israeli identity. In May 2009 Yisrael Beiteinu introduced a bill that would outlaw all Nakba commemorations, with a three-year prison sentence for such acts of remembrance. Following public criticism the bill draft was changed, the prison sentence dropped and instead the Minister of Finance would have the authority to reduce state funding for Israeli institutions found to be “commemorating Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning”. The new draft was approved by the Knesset in March 2011. The implementation of the new law unintentionally promoted knowledge of the Nakba within Israeli society, an example of the Streisand effect.

The Jewish Nakba, the direct consequence of and countermeasure to the Nakba, is the flight and expulsion of around 800,000 Jews from Arab and Islamic countries since the Israeli War of Independence from 1948 to the present day. The “Jewish Nakba” is about the same magnitude as the Israeli ethnic cleansing in Palestine to date. For Zionists, both Nakbas are not disasters. Rather, they formed the basis for the creation of a Jewish state. The approach can still be witnessed today in Palestinian East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights. Palestinians are being dispossessed and expelled, and illegal Israeli settlements are being established and expanded, which only Jews are allowed to enter. The access roads, which now completely cut through the Palestinian settlement areas, may only be used by Israel. The attempt at the international level to portray the Jewish Nakba as a self-triggered but actually unwanted event is merely a smokescreen to distract from the actual issue.

Read more on Wikipedia List of towns and villages depopulated during the 1947–1949 Palestine war, BBC, 18 May 2018: Why Nakba is the Palestinians’ most sombre day, in 100 and 300 words, Haaretz, 5 July 2019: Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematically Hides Evidence of 1948 Expulsion of Arabs, Haaretz, 12 August 2022: How to Cover Up a Massacre, The National, 30 November 2022: UN adopts landmark resolution marking Palestinian ‘Nakba Day’, Times of Israel, 1 December 2022: UN General Assembly votes in favor of commemorating Palestinian ‘Nakba’, Haaretz, 1 December 2022: Israel Slams UN Resolution to Hold Official Event Marking 75th Anniversary of Palestinian Nakba, Jerusalem Post, 1 December 2022: UN to mark ‘Nakba Day’ – Israel’s establishment as catastrophe, Palestine Chronicle, 2 December 2022: UN General Assembly Adopts Resolution Commemorating Nakba Day, Forward, 7 April 2023: A group of Israeli emissaries toured a Palestinian museum in DC, and came away with questions, Arab News, 25 April 2023: The Nakba is a 75-year-old story awaiting its final chapter, Jewish Chronicle, 14 May 2023: Thousands take part in anti-Israel ‘Nakba Day’ march in London, Jerusalem Post, 14 May 2023: Israeli ambassador to UN to member states: Avoid Nakba Day event (Netanyahu’s chief propagandist and historical revisionist at the UN, Gilad Erdan, spouting such nonsense was to be expected. The fact that there are apparently still people who listen to him at all is at least astonishing. On the other hand, he also advertises the event as a matter of course and creates publicity and thus attention for the Nakba. That’s at least something positive), Palestine Chronicle, 14 May 2023: ‘End the Nakba’: The World Stands in Solidarity with Palestine, The National, 14 May 2023: Palestinian Americans mark 75th Nakba at Washington Monument, Arab News, 14 May 2023: Israel-Palestine conflict: 75 years of failed negotiations, Arab News, 14 May 2023: Will Israel ever take responsibility for causing the Nakba?, Arab News, 14 May 2023: Arab News/YouGov poll surveys where Palestinians stand on Nakba’s 75th anniversary, Arab News, 14 May 2023: 80 percent of Palestinians welcome Chinese offer to mediate with Israel, US seen as least favorite option, United Nations, 15 May 2023: Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Nakba at UN Headquarters in New York, NPR, 15 May 2023: The U.N. is marking the 75th anniversary of Palestinians’ displacement, Time, 15 May 2023: Why the U.N. Is Commemorating Palestinian Displacement This Year, DW, 15 May 2023: Palestinians reflect on the Nakba: ‘It’s part of our lives’, Palestine Chronicle, 15 May 2023: End the ‘Memoricide’: Planting for Nakba Day, The National, 15 May 2023: UN commemorates Palestinian Nakba for first time on 75th anniversary, Haaretz, 15 May 2023: Israeli Officials Decry ‘Despicable’ First Ever UN Nakba Commemoration Event, Palestine Chronicle, 15 May 2023: Western Silence Needs to be Confronted: Ilan Pappe on the Nakba, Gaza and Inclusive Solidarity, Jerusalem Post, 15 May 2023: Abbas at UN disavows Jewish ties to Al-Aqsa, compares Israel to Nazis, Haaretz, 15 May 2023: Abbas at UN: Settler Rampage at Hawara Backed by Israeli Army, Brings to Mind the Nakba, Palestine Chronicle, 15 May 2023: Al-Nakba 75: A Challenge to Defeat Colonizers of Palestine, Haaretz, 15 May 2023: The Arab Field Commander Who Tried to Prevent the Nakba and Failed, Times of Israel, 15 May 2023: Abbas calls on UN to oust Israel at world body’s first ‘Nakba Day’ commemoration, Palestine Chronicle, 15 May 2023: Palestinians Commemorate the Nakba in Photos: ‘We Will Never Forget’, France24, 15 May 2023: Thousands of protesters in occupied West Bank mark 75 years since ‘Catastrophe’, Jerusalem Post, 16 May 2023: US shuns UN’s Nakba Day event over anti-Israel bias, Haaretz, 16 May 2023: Despite Israeli Pleas, Most EU States Attend UN’s Palestinian Nakba Event, Israel Hayom, 16 May 2023: After Israeli pressure, over 30 countries boycott UN ‘Nakba Day’ event, The Algemeiner, 17 May 2023: The Media’s Unhealthy Nakba Day Obsession, Arab News, 17 May 2023: Nakba 75: Time for Israeli, Palestinian leaders to listen to the people, Jewish Chronicle, 18 May 2023: This is a new low, even for the United Nations, Haaretz, 20 May 2023: German Court Upholds Police Ban on Palestinian Nakba Event Over Antisemitism, Incitement Fears, Times of Israel, 30 May 2023: Abbas signs decree criminalizing ‘Nakba’ denial, Palestine Chronicle, 23 July 2023: Palestinians Praise Portugal’s Recognition of Nakba, Israel Censure, Arab News, 14 September 2023: Oslo Accords created a second Nakba in Jerusalem and Wikipedia Nakba (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). 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