Middle EastNews

Nakba Day: Israelis Celebrate While Palestinians Mourn

Today is the 75th commemoration of the Nakba, when Israel took over 78% of historic Palestine, destroyed at least 530 villages, and killed over 13,000 Palestinian people in mass atrocities. 

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Today is the 75th commemoration of the Nakba, when Israel took over 78% of historic Palestine, destroyed at least 530 villages, and killed over 13,000 Palestinian people in mass atrocities. 

For the first time in history, the United Nations will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba on 15th May. The Nakba, also known as the catastrophe, marks the mass expulsion of about 750,000 Palestinians from their lands by Zionist militias in 1948.

In November 2022, the UN Assembly approved resolutions to acknowledge the Nakba, a day of catastrophe for Palestinians. Among the five resolutions voted on Palestine and Israel, one called for the “halt to all settlement activities, land confiscation and home demolitions, for the release of prisoners and for an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions.” Another one urges Israel to cancel its project to control the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel captured during the Six-day War and then annexed in 1981.

The Nakba resolution brokered by Saudi Arabia and the UAE also includes a full day of commemoration, such as a High-Level special meeting and event in the General Assembly Hall organised by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP).

Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour addressed a speech to the Security Council and said, “Today, this General Assembly will finally acknowledge the historical injustice that befell the Palestinian people, adopting a resolution that decides to commemorate in this General Assembly Hall the 75th anniversary of the Nakba.”

The Nakba Explained

Every year, on 15th May, the day after the creation of the state of Israel, Palestinians commemorate the “Nakba”, an Arabic word that means “great catastrophe”. Between 1947 and 1949, approximately 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their land by Israeli forces. Between 30th March and 15th May, Palestinians hold a Great March of Return to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Seventy-five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their lands the day after the creation of Israel on 14th May 1948.

In the 19th century, Theodor Herzl created a political, racist movement known as Zionism based on the idea that all Jews belong to a single nation and they should establish a sovereign state. Following centuries of persecution against Jewish people, Herzl considered that Jews needed to establish their own homeland. Thus, in 1897, he organised the first Zionist Congress to discuss homeland options, making Jerusalem the most important place for Jews. As a result, ten thousand Jews moved to Palestine between 1880 and 1910.

But what incited more Jews to move to Palestine was the 1917 Balfour Declaration issued by Britain. Indeed, in 1917, the British published the Balfour Declaration to create a national home for Jewish people in Palestine.

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918, it conceded its former territories to Britain, known as a League of Nations, which led to the creation of the British Mandate in which the British Empire ruled Palestine.

However, despite Britain’s hopes to create an “international society” between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, tensions arose between the two communities as 30,000 to 60,000 German Jews arrived in Palestine between 1933 and 1936. With violence growing from both sides and the deteriorating situation in Palestine, the British mandate became increasingly popular. 

Consequently, Britain began to limit the mass Jewish immigration to Palestine, especially in response to Jewish militias that formed to fight local Arabs and the British army. Between 1936 and 1939, Palestinians launched an uprising against the British due to their support for Zionist settler-colonialism. 

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However, the Arab Revolt was then crushed by Britain. In the meantime, more Jews fled Europe due to Hitler’s Nazi regime. In 1947, as the situation became increasingly out of control, Britain announced it would terminate its mandate over Palestine and handed the question of Palestine to the United Nations. 

On 29th November 1947, the UN approved a partition plan by dividing British Palestine into two different states, making the city of Jerusalem an international zone. The partition plan thus granted 55% of Palestine to Jewish people. While Arab states deemed it a land theft, Jews accepted the plan and declared the independence of Israel.

Indeed, on 14th May 1948, David Ben-Gurion became the first Israeli prime minister and declared the creation of the Israeli state. Since 1948, Israel has celebrated 15th May as its day of independence, while Palestinians commemorate it as a day of disaster, namely Nakba in Arabic.

In 1948, Arab states declared war on Israel, calling for a unified Arab Palestine. In response, Zionist paramilitary groups thus launched a process of ethnic cleansing in a series of attacks leading to the mass expulsion of at least 700,000 Palestinians from their towns and villages.

During the Nakba, Israel took over 78% of historic Palestine, destroyed at least 530 villages, and killed over 13,000 Palestinian people in mass atrocities. By 1949, about 750,000 Palestinians fled their homeland and were still not allowed to return, while 150,000 remained in occupied Palestine. 

Throughout the years, Israel passed discriminatory laws against Palestinians, including the Law of Return that grants Israeli citizenship to foreign Jews to relocate to occupied Palestine.

It is estimated that there are 5.8 million Palestinian refugees today. Some Palestinian refugees live in camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the occupied West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians live under a 15-year Israeli blockade and mainly depend on humanitarian aid. Moreover, around 2 million Palestinian refugees were internally displaced and now live in Israel after being granted Israeli citizenship.

Although the UN passed a couple of resolutions, including Resolution 194, which states the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland, “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible“, Israel still denies Palestinians this right.

To this day, for Palestinians, the Nakba is still ongoing. It is reflected in home demolitions of Palestinian people, land seizing, illegal occupation, administrative detention, daily assaults, systematic restriction on the freedom of movement of Palestinians, and more.