The Nakba: from 1948 to today

What is the Nakba?
The Nakba (“disaster” in Arabic) refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the destruction of Palestinian communities that took place when the State of Israel was created in 1948. 85 to 90% of the Palestinians who lived in what became Israel were expelled (some 700 to 800,000). 1] Four-fifths of Palestinian cities and villages were destroyed or repopulated by Jewish Israelis. 2] In cities such as Haifa and Acre, Palestinian neighbourhoods were emptied and reoccupied, and Palestinian displacement was on track at the time of Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence. Between March 30 and May 15, some 200 Palestinian villages were, in the words of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “occupied and their inhabitants expelled.” 3] Thus, even before the “Arab-Israeli” war began, about half of the final total of Palestinian refugees had already lost their homes. 4] Ethnic cleansing did not only begin before May 1948, it also continued for some time afterwards; the expulsion of Palestinians from Al-Majdal to the Gaza Strip, for example, was not complete until the end of 1950. [5]. Emptied of its Palestinian inhabitants, Al-Majdal became the Israeli port city of Ashkelon.
Why did the Palestinians leave their homes?
The primary reason for the evacuation of hundreds of Palestinian villages in 1947-48 was a combination of strength and fear, something long maintained by Palestinian historians. 6] The work of Israeli historians such as Benny Morris has provided additional evidence; according to Morris, of the nearly 400 destroyed Palestinian villages he studied, “evacuation on Arab orders” was the decisive factor in evacuating the population in only six cases. 7] Massacres by Zionist forces – of which there have been at least two dozen – have played a major role in spreading terror among Palestinians. 8] Deir Yassin, where 100 to 120 villagers were killed on April 9, 1948, is the most famous atrocity, but there were many others: in al-Dawamiya, in October 1948, more than 100 villagers – men, women, and children – were killed. The Poem That Exposed Israeli War Crimes in 1948′, Ha’aretz, March 18, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.709439.Dans Many cities and villages, Palestinians were expelled at gunpoint, as in Lydda and Ramla. After hundreds of people were killed in the conquest of the cities, it is estimated that 50,000 inhabitants were forced to walk to the West Bank. [9]. In many other villages, columns of refugees were targeted by mortar fire to “speed up the train.” [10] Why did the Palestinians not return home after the fighting ended?
Palestinian refugees were prevented from returning home by violence and laws. As early as June 1948, David Ben-Gurion – Israel’s first Prime Minister – told his cabinet that “no Arab refugees should be allowed to return”. Palestinians trying to return were described as “infiltrators” by the Israeli authorities, and considered a security threat. In 1956, up to 5,000 Palestinian refugees trying to return home had been killed by Israeli forces; most died while trying to return home, gain access to their lost crops or properties, or seek their loved ones. 12] Meanwhile, the Israeli government quickly passed laws that both appropriated the property and land of the expelled Palestinians and stripped them of the citizenship they had been granted as inhabitants of the new state. [13]

 

Why do people consider this as “ethnic cleansing”?
There is no formal definition of ethnic cleansing in international humanitarian law, and the term originates from the violence of the early 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. 14] In 1994, an article in the European Journal of International Law defined the long-term goal of a “policy of ethnic cleansing” as “the creation of living conditions that make it impossible for the displaced community to return. 15] The Nakba corresponds to our understanding of ethnic cleansing: fear and violence have been used to empty hundreds of towns and villages and their inhabitants have been prevented from returning. Moreover, the intentions of the pre-state Zionist leadership, which became the first government of Israel, were clear: as historical research has shown, the idea of “transferring” all or part of the Arabs from Palestine outside the future Jewish state was widespread among Zionist ruling circles long before the Nakba. 16] In 1930, for example, the then President of the Jewish National Fund stated: “If there are other inhabitants there, they must be transferred elsewhere. We must take control of the land.” 17] During the Nakba, again, a common operational order instructed Israeli forces “to seize the villages, clean them of their inhabitants (women and children were (also) to be expelled)” and “to burn as many houses as possible. 18] When Ben-Gurion was asked what to do with the people of Lydda and Ramla, his answer was brief: “Expel them.” 19] In 1900, the population of Palestine was about 4% Jewish and 96% Arab, and in 1947, Palestinian Arabs still constituted more than two thirds of the population. 20] Thus, as Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev said,”‘making the Arabs disappear was at the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition for its realization. [21] Do people commemorate the Nakba in Palestine/Israel?
Palestinians celebrate Nakba Day on May 15, including Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many Palestinian citizens of Israel, at the same time, celebrate the Nakba on the state’s official “Independence Day”, which changes every year because it is based on the Jewish calendar; on this day, Palestinian citizens, joined by a number of Jewish Israelis, march to the site of a destroyed village. This is not only a commemorative action; thus at least a quarter of the Palestinians living within the pre-1967 borders of Israel are described as “absent present”, they are internally displaced persons from the Nakba and to this day, are legally prevented from returning to their land and property. 22] In recent years, the Israeli government has sought to undermine the commemoration of the Nakba by the Palestinian community by passing a law that “punishes with fines entities that openly reject Israel as a Jewish state or celebrate Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning. In January 2012, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition against the law, although it infringes on “freedom of expression.” [24]

 

Is the Nakba just “ancient history”?
Palestinian refugees continue to demand that their internationally recognized right to both return and restitution of their property be respected. Today there are about 5.2 million refugees registered by the UN (the total number of Palestinians in the diaspora is 7.5 million), including 2 million living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israeli military rule – and a few miles from their lands. 25] Palestinians also refer to a “continuous Nakba”, in the sense that Israeli policies of forced displacement and colonization have continued, and even increased, over the decades. During the 1967 Israeli conquest of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, for example, some 300,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled. Among those who left the West Bank, less than 8% were allowed by Israel to return. 26] Current examples include the eviction of Palestinian families by Israeli settlers in Occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the demolition of houses and the displacement of Palestinians in various areas of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and the southern Hebron Hills.

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