Al-Nakba means the catastrophe and refers to the events of 1947-1948 which led to the founding of the state of Israel and the consequent ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Nakba Day is observed throughout the world on May 15, though you would have been hard pressed to find much, if any, mention of it in the mainstream UK media.
What then was this “catastrophe”?
With the ending of Britain's Mandate rule over Palestine – another inglorious and bloody chapter in Britain's imperial legacy – the Jewish settlers in Palestine launched an aggressive war against the Palestinians to secure as much land as possible for the newly declared Jewish state of Israel. During 1947 and 1948 Jewish forces seized 78% of Palestine for Israel and forcibly expelled over 700 000 Palestinians from their homes and villages – this represented well over half of the Palestinian population. As part of this land grab Zionist forces conducted massacres of civilians (e.g. Deir Yassin and at Tantura) in order to induce the rest of the Palestinian population to flee. Within the new state of Israel over 400 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed and razed to the ground. Palestinian land was confiscated and turned over exclusively to Jewish immigrants.
It is important to realize that this mass ethnic cleansing was not an unfortunate and accidental example of collateral damage. Far from it, the ethnic cleansing was an absolutely essential part of the creation of Israel. Without the ethnic cleansing there would have been no Jewish state. The 52% of Palestine that was allocated to a Jewish state as part of the UN partition plan included almost as many Palestinians as Jews – between 400 000 – 500 000 Palestinians to approximately 500 000 Jews. Such a state could not have become a Jewish state. So to establish a Jewish state, the largest number of Palestinians had to be expelled.
The 700 000 plus Palestinians expelled from their homes and villages became refugees and still are refugees. There are now close to five million Palestinian refugees! Most of them live in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, with others based in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. To this day Israel has refused to recognize the right of Palestinians to return to their homes or to receive compensation as required by UN Resolution 194, Article 11 of which reads:
- Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.
Though much of the discourse about resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict is based on the establishment of two states with Israel returning to its pre-June 1967 borders, this conveniently (and almost certainly deliberately) ignores the real origins of the conflict and thus what needs to be done to achieve a just and lasting settlement. An essential starting point is for the rest of the world and most importantly Israel to finally acknowledge the enormous loss and suffering that the creation of the state of Israel caused to the Palestinian people. With a genuine acknowledgement Israelis and Palestinians can then together begin to work out a solution to the refugee issue based on return, compensation or resettlement. Without a willingness on the part of Israel to confront its past there can be not just and lasting peace. As the former colonial power the UK still has a constructive role to play by the UK itself to formally recognize Al-Nakba and to put pressure on Israel to do likewise.
Jewish Voice for Peace has produced an informative Fact Sheet on Al-Nakba which you can access here.