Palestinians remember the Nakba

Monjed Jadou, Tuesday 21 May 2024

Palestinians are marking the 76th anniversary of the Nakba amid the ongoing Israeli atrocities in the war on Gaza, writes Monjed Jadou in Ramallah.

Palestinians remember the Nakba

 

In the midst of a brutal Israeli campaign of extermination against the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip, Palestinians are commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe that led to their displacement from their ancestral towns and villages to refugee camps across the Arab world in 1948.

This year, the Nakba takes on a profound significance as the Palestinians are enduring another relentless Israeli onslaught across their territories.

The Israeli government is continuing its relentless assault on Gaza, attempting to erase the existence of the Palestinians through systematic oppression and policies reminiscent of ethnic cleansing, according to many observers.

Palestinian cities across the West Bank witnessed angry demonstrations as Palestinians waved the national flag and black banners to mark the anniversary of the Nakba. Sirens blared for 76 seconds in various cities to mark the 76 years since Palestinian dispossession in 1948.

This year, the event coincided with the 222nd day of the Israeli war on Gaza, bringing the historical tragedy into stark relief as a lived reality.

For Abu Akram Amarna, an elderly man who was just six months old when his family fled from their home during the Nakba, the anniversary is particularly poignant.

Growing up in Beit Sahour, he experienced the initial days of displacement in a makeshift tent. The harsh conditions of life in those early days of exile are eerily similar to those faced by the displaced Palestinians in Gaza today, leading Amarna to reflect on the Palestinians now living between two Nakbas.

Growing up in the alleys of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank, he recalls the dire conditions faced by the refugees, with no access to water, medicine, or food. Yet, the unwavering belief in their right to return fuelled their resilience, much like the determination seen in Gaza today.

Amarna still holds onto the dream of returning to his village, Ras Abu Ammar, one of the Jerusalem villages from which residents were forced to flee in 1948. Although he was then a child carried in his family’s arms, his wish to return to his birthplace is as strong as ever.

His story is a reminder that despite the pain and oppression endured by the Palestinians, they persist in carrying their message to the world.

This year, as they witness the massacres of civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, at the hands of the Israeli army, the Palestinians emphasise their right to return to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948.

They hold onto the keys of these houses, symbolising their claim and reminding the world that their struggle did not begin on 7 October last year but has been ongoing for 76 years.

This year’s commemoration of the Nakba began with a procession in Ramallah starting from the tomb of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat before similar marches took place in various cities across the West Bank.

The participants carried Palestinian flags, banners with the names of the towns and villages their ancestors were forced to flee from, black flags, and the “Key of Return,” symbolising their commitment to the right of return.

Mahmoud Al-Aloul, deputy president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a leader of the Fatah Movement, said that “this anniversary is the result of the massacres that claimed thousands of victims and those who were displaced from their villages, on the ruins of which the oppressive and racist state of Israel was established on Palestinian land.”

“Today, a new Nakba is happening, possibly much harsher than that of 1948, with the genocide of our people in the Gaza Strip and settler gangs attacking our villages and erasing communities in various areas of the West Bank, including Jerusalem.”

“For 76 years, they have been trying to subdue our people, who nevertheless remain steadfast about their land and rights.”

“Israel wishes to resolve the conflict through force, destruction, and killing, but it has not learned from history. We have not abandoned our land. We are holding on to our land and our right of return,” Al-Aloul said.

 

FIRST AND SECOND NAKBAS: Between the two Nakbas, the Palestinians have faced wars, uprisings, peace treaties, and agreements, and they have seen the sacrifice of some 134,000 lives, 15,000 during the first Nakba and 35,000 in the current conflict.

Despite these efforts, they have yet to achieve their desired statehood. This year, the Palestinians have adopted the slogan, “Despite the genocide, we remain. Despite the displacement, we will return,” as the official theme of the Nakba commemorations, reflecting their enduring struggle and resilience in the face of continued adversity.

Many Palestinians argue that this year’s Nakba commemoration is unlike any other, as they face what they describe as a genocidal war on every front.

The most egregious crimes of the Israeli occupation, they emphasise, are occurring in Gaza, rendering the Nakba remembrance almost insignificant amidst the ongoing catastrophe perpetrated by Israel 76 years after the initial Nakba.

The successive waves of pain and suffering resulting from Israeli aggression, whether in terms of casualties or the extensive destruction inflicted upon Palestinians, underscore its compounded anguish.

Despite their profound sense of grief and despair, the Palestinians are determined to convey their message to the world. Bearing the keys of return symbolising their right to reclaim their ancestral homes from which they were expelled in 1948, they say that the Palestinian Cause predates the events of last October.

Munther Amira, a prominent activist in the resistance against the Israeli settlements and occupation, stresses the uniqueness of this year’s Nakba commemoration, portraying it as a heightened form of suffering.

He pointed to Israel’s intensified campaign of violence, targeting civilians in Palestinian refugee camps, villages, and towns, particularly in Gaza and being reminiscent of the atrocities committed during the initial Nakba by Zionist militias, which evolved into the Israeli army, in 1948.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Amira said that Israelis perpetrating massacres in Gaza even more atrocious than those of 1948. He said that the international community must compel Israel to cease the massacres it has been carrying out since 7 October last year, targeting and killing Palestinian civilians, displacing them from their communities, and demolishing their homes.

Amira said that the Israeli occupation and Zionist militias had wounded 30,000 Palestinians 76 years ago, while 88,000 have been wounded thus far in 2024. While 70 massacres were committed in 1948, in 2023-2024, 3,000 massacres have been perpetrated by the occupation.

Regarding the plight of Palestinian prisoners and the conditions of their detention, Amira said that during the initial Nakba, 5,000 Palestinians were arrested. However, during its ongoing campaign, the Israeli occupation has arrested 9,800 prisoners.

In 1948, the occupation forced approximately 800,000 Palestinians to flee their homes, while in 2024, 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced and rendered homeless as a result of the Israeli army’s demolition of their homes.

He said that in 1948, the occupation demolished thousands of homes in 571 villages and towns, while in 2024, it has demolished 90,000 apartments and razed dozens of cities, villages, and refugee camps.

Anwar Hammam, deputy director of the Refugee Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), questioned how long the silence in the international community will persist regarding the ongoing crimes of the Israeli occupation that have not deterred the Palestinians from continuing their struggle to achieve their national goals.

Hammam described the current situation as a genocidal war against the Palestinian people, coinciding with the 76th anniversary of the Nakba. He said that while the Palestinians historically consider the Nakba of 1948 as the major catastrophe, the current Israeli actions in Gaza constitute an attempt to produce a new catastrophe, surpassing the scale of 1948.

The Palestinians face a comprehensive new catastrophe that has been documented in visual evidence, indicating that the Nakba has persisted for nearly a century to the present day.

He said the Nakba had begun with the Balfour Declaration by the British government in 1917 and the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine, since this had facilitated the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and had undermined all aspects of Palestinian society and prevented Palestine from moving towards independence.

Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza reflects Israel’s efforts to resolve the conflict over Palestine definitively. Previous Israeli governments had sought to manage the conflict, whereas the current one aims to end it by targeting Palestinian refugee camps, whether in Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem, and attempting to destroy them as symbols of the Nakba and the reservoir of the Palestinian national struggle over 76 years.

Hammam said the National Committee for Commemorating the Nakba, a broad coalition of Palestinian national factions, has approved a comprehensive programme to commemorate it on both the Palestinian and global levels.

A series of ongoing activities intensified on 15 May, the anniversary of the Nakba, he said, with a strong connection being made between the 1948 Nakba and the war on Gaza expressed by the slogan “For Gaza, We Shall Emerge.”

Educational programmes in schools aim to reinforce the culture of return and the demand for Palestinian rights, he said. Each institution has its own programme to commemorate the Nakba, with the Ministry of Culture conducting awareness workshops and issuing informational books.

Hammam said that Nakba commemorations will occur in all world capitals, linking the events with the solidarity movement with the Palestinian people and including unions, associations, universities, and Palestinian embassies and communities abroad.

These events, also held in front of UN headquarters in New York, will highlight the global dimension of the catastrophe endured by the Palestinian people. Central messages will emphasise Israel’s genocidal war against Palestinian refugee camps and its direct targeting of UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.

 

CONDEMNATION: Meanwhile, the international rights group Amnesty International has condemned the ongoing forced displacement of nearly two million Palestinians and the comprehensive destruction of civilian property and infrastructure in the occupied Gaza Strip.

The situation highlights Israel’s appalling record of displacing Palestinians and its persistent refusal to respect their right of return over the past 76 years.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of Research, Advocacy, Policy, and Campaigns at Amnesty, said that “generations of Palestinians across the Occupied Territories have endured the trauma of being uprooted from their land and having their properties seized multiple times, with no hope of returning to their homes; this has left a deep wound in their psyche.”

“It is horrifying to see the terrifying scenes of the Nakba of 1948, as Palestinians call it, being repeated as large numbers of them in the Gaza Strip are forced to flee their homes on foot, seeking safety again and again.”

“Meanwhile, the Israeli army and supported settlers continue to displace Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank,” Guevara-Rosas said.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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