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The Palestinian Nakba, from 1948 to Today

ColumnMay 16, 2024
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

Palestinians and allies marked the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, May 15th – the day after the state of Israel was formally declared. “Nakba” is Arabic for “catastrophe,” and is used to describe the murder, dispossession and forced displacement Palestinians suffered in the years up to and including 1948. As many as 900,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes. Thousands were killed, massacred by Israeli militias like the Irgun and the Stern Gang or while fleeing on foot with no food or water, and some while engaged in armed resistance. What has followed since 1948 has been one of the most violent, costly and protracted conflicts in the modern era.
Israel’s assault on Gaza has been termed a genocide by an increasing number of United Nations member states and international legal experts. Egypt joined South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where an emergency hearing was called this week, following Israel’s ground invasion of Rafah. In Gaza, the official death toll is now over 35,000 Palestinians. Israel’s siege is also responsible for widening famine in Gaza.
“What we are seeing now, what unfolds in front of our eyes, is a genocidal situation, by which people are targeted, whether they are children, babies, in hospital or in schools. This is a massive operation of killing, of ethnic cleansing, of depopulation,” renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, who as an Israeli soldier fought in the 1973 war, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “The Nakba has never really ended for the Palestinians, so it’s a new horrific chapter in the ongoing Nakba that the Palestinians are suffering.”
Professor Pappé was just detained when he flew into Detroit, and described on Facebook two hours of FBI questioning before being released. He said they asked, “Am I a Hamas supporter? Do I regard the Israeli actions in Gaza a genocide? What is the solution to the ‘conflict’ (seriously, this is what they asked!) Who are my Arab and Muslim friends in America?”
This week, on Nakba Day, Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti, a Palestinian historian and endowed Arab studies chair at Rice University, said on Democracy Now!
“The Nakba is continuing. We have to understand that this is a colonial continuum. This is a structural process. It is not an event. And what we’re seeing now in Gaza is very much connected to what happened in 1948.”
Professor Takriti assigned historical blame on the United Nations, the United States, and Britain:
“You had a very aggressive settler-colonial movement develop in Palestine under British rule. It was armed under British rule. It was trained under British rule.”
Professor Takriti continued, “The Israeli project is very much intertwined with American foreign policy towards the Palestinian people. They don’t see us as human beings. They want to destroy us. But they know that they have to present it in self-defense terms so that it’s palatable to the broader public…this is just a racist, criminal project that is leading and causing immense pain and suffering.”
South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice is seeking to do just that. On Thursday, human rights attorney Adila Hassim spoke at the ICJ emergency hearing, her voice betraying emotion as she recited grim statistics:
“Children have suffered particularly severely. More than 14,000 have been killed. 1000s more have been injured or lost family members, While an estimated 17,000 Children are unaccompanied or separated. Make no mistake. These conditions are a direct result of Israel’s military onslaught on the besieged enclave with full knowledge of the destructive consequences of this humanitarian crisis. In these circumstances, the thwarting of humanitarian aid cannot be seen as anything but the deliberate snuffing out of Palestinian lives, starvation to the point of famine, obstructing aid in the face of famine, and killing of at least 200 aid workers.”
Hassim concluded, “Israel must be stopped.”
Ironically, Israeli nationalists, many who deny that the Nakba occurred at all, are now calling for a second one. “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48,” wrote Knesset member Ariel Kellner. On Tuesday, at an Israeli Independence Day march, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir addressed thousands, saying, “First, we must return to Gaza now! We are coming home to the Holy Land! And second, we must encourage emigration. Encourage the voluntary emigration of the residents of Gaza!”
Israel’s mass slaughter in Gaza must end immediately. Ultimately, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and U.S. support for the occupation, also must end. It’s not good for Israel or its national security. It’s devastating for Palestinians. It’s illegal and immoral.

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