Nakba Day

Sunday, 15 May 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  8 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.

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.

Read more on Wikipedia List of towns and villages depopulated during the 1947–1949 Palestine war and Wikipedia Nakba (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Johns Hopkins University & Medicine - Coronavirus Resource Center - Global Passport Power Rank - 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). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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