The 14th of May will mark the founding of the State of Israel The 15th of May marks Nakbah Day.
This May 15th, we will commemorate Nakbah Day. In Arabic, Al-Nakbah means “The Disaster”. There is no more of an appropriate word to describe the events that led up to, and have continued beyond, the founding of the state of Israel. The ethnic cleansing of around 700,000 Palestinians is a disaster. An unimaginable trauma that saw families separated and uprooted.
However, in 2008 at the Al-Awda Convention at Exeter University, Israeli Historian Illan Pappe explained why he considered the description of what went on in 1948 as a “Catastrophe”, to be disappointing, in a way. He said:
“[it is] a term of passivity. It talks about a disaster. And, indeed, what happened in 1948 was a disaster, but also a Tsunami is a disaster. An earthquake is a disaster. There are all kinds of disasters. And what the human psyche associates with disasters, usually, is that nobody is responsible for it. Everybody is a victim of it. And, this is not what happened in 1948. It is not that kind of disaster. What happened in 1948 is a crime.”
We, like Pappe, recognize that the events of 1948 were not only a disaster, but a crime.
March, 1948, saw a war raging between Jewish and Arab forces. An unequal one, in which Jewish forces were much better organized and well trained, but a war, nonetheless. In 1948, military leaders of the Yishuv (Jewish Community) set “Plan Dalet” into full operation. The operation consisted of the systematic “cleansing” of Palestinian Towns and Villages, by the Jewish Forces.
By the time the State of Israel was declared, that is May 14, 58 villages had already been erased. By 1949, 370 had been wiped out. In some cases the villagers were told to leave. In some cases, they were killed. The Deir Yassin Massacre is one of the more infamous events of this time. The Massacre left over 100 men, women and children dead. In some cases, the residents were told that they could stay. However, this was seen as deceitful and a lie by many Palestinians, especially after the massacres that had taken place in other villages and towns.
One of the more sinister aspects of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Jewish, and later Israeli, Forces was the ‘Judaizing’ of the targeted Villages and Towns. Not just through the killing and expulsion of the Palestinian population, but by the renaming of those places from Arabic into Hebrew. This was an attempt to ‘cleanse’ the area of, not just the living population, but also of any cultural and linguistic trace of those people. It is important to note that this continues today in places like Jerusalem, where Street names are changed from their original Arabic names, into Hebrew names, as part of an effort to alter the “facts on the ground” (no doubt to prepare East Jerusalem to become part of a the future Israeli Capital).
Today there are over 6.5 million Palestinians living as refugees. They constitute the largest refugee population in the world. Many of these refugees live in poverty, and it does not look likely that they will be able to return to their homes in the near future. Yet, every year, more and more European, American and African Jews are granted the right to become Israeli Citizens and to “return” to Palestine, simply because of their race.
We will not rejoice in the founding of the state of Israel, for it was founded through the ethnic cleansing and displacement of the indigenous population. However, we will not simply look at this as one of history’s great disasters, confined to the past. We recognize its inseparable links to the present and the future.
Every Palestinian house that is bulldozed, every family that is forcibly evicted from their home, every illegal settlement that is constructed, every street sign painted over with Hebrew and every Palestinian historical site built over, is a continuation of that crime. To commemorate Nakbah Day is to recognize the disaster that was criminally visited upon the Palestinian people in 1948 and to stand, in defiance of it, in solidarity with Palestinians inside and outside Palestine.
Palestinian Solidarity@Seoul, S.Korea