Nakba at 75: Remembering the Palestinian catastrophe

Al-Ahram Weekly , Tuesday 30 May 2023

On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba – the Palestinian Catastrophe – Al-Ahram Weekly republishes the 1998 special pages commemorating 50 years of Palestinian dispossession and the creation of Israel on 14 May 1948.



The Nakba began the day after, on 15 May 1948. It has been marked every year since, as it continued to shape and influence the Arab consciousness and the region’s political landscape, like no other in our modern history.

Little has changed as we look back at Al-Ahram Weekly’s year-long project which documented the history of the Nakba 25 years ago. Israel’s settler colonialism, inherent in its structural violence, continues till this day. 

The expulsion and dispossession of more than 700,000 Palestinians 75 years ago by Zionist militias, through genocide and ethnic cleansing, has failed, however, to eliminate the indigenous people of Palestine.

Today they are more than seven million in the diaspora and 5.3 million in the West Bank, Gaza and inside the 1948 borders of Israel.

Despite, or because of, Israel’s apartheid regime and war machine which sees Palestinian causalities as political gains or collateral damage, Palestinians have held on to their national identity.

Recent polls reveal that the majority of Palestinians, while espousing statehood and liberation, have lost faith in both the two-state solution and their political leadership. Instead, they support resistance against the Israeli occupation. 

While the optics might have changed over 75 years, the nature of the “conflict” has not. 

This is reflected in the testimonies, accounts and reflections of the writers, intellectuals and figures who marked the Nakba’s 50th anniversary on the pages of Al-Ahram Weekly in 1998 and whose words are still relevant till this day. 

Edward Said, the acclaimed Palestinian professor of English literature questions “how are we to say that we will coexist with a state that still has not declared its boundaries and still describes itself, not as the state of its citizens, but as the state of the whole Jewish people entitled to the entire ‘land of Israel’?” 

Meanwhile, Palestinian historian Saleh Abdel-Jawad describes the tactics employed by Israel since 1948 to expel the indigenous population have given way to a policy he calls "sociocide." That is “the gradual undermining of the communal and psychological structures of Palestinian society in order to compel the Palestinians to leave by other means.”

Salim Tamari’s haunting account of his visit his birthplace, the once thriving Palestinian city of Jaffa, occupied by Zionist militias in 1948, is piercing. The prominent Palestinian sociologist describes “a city abandoned and now being rejuvenated by Jewish gentrification seeking abandoned Arab houses, or pushing houses to be abandoned.” And where he finds his grandfather’s house occupied by two Jewish Moroccan families.

A 1984 interview by Egyptian novelist and academic Radwa Ashour with Nagi El-Ali, the prominent Palestinian cartoonist, takes us back to his family’s expulsion from Galilee, at the age of 11, where he ended up in refugee camp in south Lebanon.

“The young, barefoot Hanzala” he explains “was a symbol of my childhood. He was 11-years-old when I had left Palestine and, in a sense, I am still that age today.”

Highlights from Al-Ahram Weekly’s special Nakba coverage in 1998 include an interview with prominent Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal who covered the 1948 war, among other compelling testimonies from that time.

The weekly’s staff also embarked on a yearlong journey in Al-Ahram newspaper’s microfilm archives to unearth the paper’s coverage as 1948 unfolded.

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