Yawm an-Nakbah, meaning “Day of the Catastrophe” is generally commemorated on 15 May, the day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut). For the Palestinians it is an annual day of commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
These words make us remember that the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes was no accident. “We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border … while denying it any employment in our country.” — Theodore Herzl
“When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” — Raphael Eitan, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, New York Times, April 1983 (source: Debunking the Myths of Colonization: The Arabs and Europe by Samar Attar)
“We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima — the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.” Journalist Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minster Ariel Sharon.
In 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194. This resolution set a framework for providing Palestinian refugees with special protection and called for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes from which Israeli forces displaced them, the restitution of their properties and compensation for the costs and injury done to them, rehabilitation and other entitlements of reparations.
Ilan Pappé describes in “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, that the expulsion of Palestinians was an intentional campaign, sanctioned (if not always explicitly ordered) from the top down. As such, the Nakba represents not an accidental side effect of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (as was long asserted) but rather a classic example of ethnic cleansing. The Deir Yassin massacre was the murder of roughly 100 Palestinians villagers by Zionist paramilitaries on April 9, 1948.
Benny Morris writes in his “Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001”:
Deir Yassin is remembered not as a military operation, but rather for the atrocities committed by the IZL and LHI troops during and immediately after the drawn-out battle: Whole families were riddled with bullets and grenade fragments and buried when houses were blown up on top of them; men, women, and children were mowed down as they emerged from houses; individuals were taken aside and shot. At the end of the battle, groups of old men, women, and children were trucked through West Jerusalem’s streets in a kind of “victory parade” and then dumped in (Arab) East Jerusalem.
Of the 11.4 million Palestinians worldwide, 66% are forcible displaced, (refugees and internally displaced people) and over half live in the Shatat (forced exile). Instead of an event relegated to history, the Nakba continues into its 65th year – the central source for the annual increase of these displacement statistics.[www.imemc.org]
Hebrew textbooks focus chiefly on the success of Israel’s troops during the 1948 war. The books say that the 750,000 refugees either left voluntarily or were ordered to leave by Arab armies. Most historians now say that Israeli troops either physically expelled the Palestinians or frightened them so much that they fled.
Arab citizens of Israel have also been admonished for observing Nakba Day in light of their higher standard of living when compared to that of Palestinians who reside outside of Israel. On 23 March 2011, the Knesset approved, by a vote of 37 to 25, a change to the budget, giving the Israeli Finance Minister the discretion to reduce government funding to any non-governmental organization (NGO) that organizes Nakba commemoration events. [Elia Zureik, David Lyon, Yasmeen Abu-Laban. Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, Territory and Power]
Ramzy Baroud, author of “My Father was a Freedom” Fighter writes,
More than fifty people were killed in Beit Daras that day. An old Gaza woman, Um Mohammed – who I discussed in my last book, My Father was a Freedom Fighter – refers to what is likely the same event:
“The town was under bombardment, and it was surrounded from all directions. There was no way out. The armed men (the Beit Daras fighters) said they were going to check on the road to Isdud, to see if it was open. They moved forward and shot few shots to see if someone would return fire. No one did. But they (the Zionist forces) were hiding and waiting to ambush the people. The armed men returned and told the people to evacuate the women and children. The people went out (including) those who were gathered at my huge house, the family house. There were mostly children and kids in the house. The Jewish (soldiers) let the people get out, and then they whipped them with bombs and machine guns. More people fell than those who were able to run. My sister and I started running through the fields; we’d fall and get up. My sister and I escaped together holding each other’s hands. The people who took the main road were either killed or injured. The firing was falling on the people like sand. The bombs from one side and the machine guns from the other.”
Ben Gurion referenced my own family’s village – Beit Daras – which witnessed three battles and a massacre. In an entry in his diaries on May 12, 1948, he wrote: “Beit Daras was mortared. Fifty Arabs (were killed). The (villages of) Bashit and Sawafir were occupied. There is mass exodus from nearby areas (neighbors in Majdal). We sustained 5 dead and 15 wounded.” (War Diaries, 1947-1949).
Al-Nakba has also remained an ongoing project through generations of Israeli Zionists. When Ben Gurion died in 1973, current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in his mid-twenties. He was then serving his last year in the Israeli army, and today he rules Israel with a coalition that includes almost three quarters of the Israeli parliament. Like most Israeli leaders, he continues to contribute to the very discourse by which Palestine was conquered. He speaks of peace, while his soldiers and armed settlers take over Palestinian homes and farms. He makes repeated offers to Palestinians for ‘unconditional’ talks, as he repeats his violent rejection of every Palestinian aspiration. His lobby in Washington is much stronger than ever before. He reigns supreme, as he continues to fulfill the ‘vision’ of early Zionists.
Ilan Pappé eloquently captures precisely what is at stake:
The inability of Israelis to acknowledge the trauma the Palestinians suffered stands out even more sharply against the way the Palestinian national narrative tells the story of the Nakba, a trauma they continue to live with to the present…. What the Palestinians are demanding, and what, for many of them, has become a sine qua non, is that they be recognized as the victims of an ongoing evil, consciously perpetrated against them by Israel. For Israeli Jews to accept this would naturally mean undermining their own status of victimhood. This would have political implications on an international scale, but also—perhaps far more critically—would trigger moral and existential repercussions for the Israeli Jewish psyche: Israeli Jews would have to recognize that they have become the mirror image of their own worst nightmare.
Al-Nakba is not a specific date or an estimation of time, but the entirety of those 65 years and counting. The event must not be assigned to the shelves of history, not as long as refugees are still refugees and settlers continue to rob Palestinian land. As long as Netanyahu speaks the language of Ben Gurion, other ‘catastrophic’ episodes will follow. And as long as Palestinians hold on to their keys and deeds, the old may die but the young will never forget.
– Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
I look at these images and I cannot stop the tears. How can a nation, who has been through oppression themselves, watch and tolerate the same? It is unspeakable. The spirit of the Palestinian people brings to mind the inspirational words of Steve Maraboli’s, Life, the Truth, and Being Free…
“When a new day begins, they dare to smile gratefully.
When there is darkness, (they) dare to be the first to shine a light.
When there is injustice, (they) dare to be the first to condemn it.
When something seems difficult, (they) dare to do it anyway.
When life seems to beat you down, (they) dare to fight back.
When there seems to be no hope, (they) dare to find some.
When they are feeling tired, (they) dare to keep going.
When times are tough, (they) dare to be tougher.”
While life goes on, the Palestinian people remain in our hearts. You will return, one day, you will return.