‘Day of the Catastrophe’ (Yawm an-Nakba) 15 May


15 May 2018 | Various Sources| Hawkins Bay Dispatch – This Day

Nakba Day (Arabic: يوم النكبة Yawm an-Nakba, meaning “Day of the Catastrophe”) is generally commemorated on 15 May, the day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut).

For the Palestinians it is an annual day of commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.

Defining Nakba

During the 1948 Palestine war, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed.

Palestinian refugees in 1948

These refugees and their descendants number several million people today, divided between Jordan (2 million), Lebanon (427,057), Syria (477,700), the West Bank (788,108) and the Gaza Strip (1.1 million), with at least another quarter of a million internally displaced Palestinians in Israel.

The displacement, dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people is known to them as an-Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” or “disaster”.

Prior to its adoption by the Palestinian nationalist movement, the “Year of the Catastrophe” among Arabs referred to 1920, when European colonial powers partitioned the Ottoman Empire into a series of separate states along lines of their own choosing.

The term was first used to reference the events of 1948 in the summer of that same year by the Syrian writer Constantine Zureiq in his work Macnā an-Nakba (“The Meaning of the Nakba“; published in English in 1956).

Initially, the use of the term Nakba among Palestinians was not universal. For example, many years after 1948, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon avoided and even actively resisted using the term, because it lent permanency to a situation they viewed as temporary, and they often insisted on being called “returnees.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, terms they used to describe the events of 1948 included al-‘ightiṣāb (“the rape”), or were more euphemistic, such as al-‘aḥdāth (“the events”), al-hijra (“the exodus”), and lammā sharnā wa-tla’nā (“when we blackened our faces and left”).

Nakba narratives were avoided by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in the 1970s, in favor of a narrative of revolution and renewal.

Interest in the Nakba by organizations representing refugees in Lebanon surged in the 1990s due to the perception that the refugees’ right of return might be negotiated away in exchange for Palestinian statehood, and the desire was to send a clear message to the international community that this right was non-negotiable.

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has prompted Palestinians like Mahmoud Darwish to describe the Nakba as “an extended present that promises to continue in the future.” [Wikipedia]

The Nakba did not start or end in 1948

23 May 2017 | Staff | Al Jazeera

Key facts and figures on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Every year on May 15, Palestinians around the world, numbering about 12.4 million, mark the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, referring to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the near-total destruction of Palestinian society in 1948.

The Palestinian experience of dispossession and loss of a homeland is 69 years old this year.

On that day, the State of Israel came into being. The creation of Israel was a violent process that entailed the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland to establish a Jewish-majority state, as per the aspirations of the Zionist movement.

Between 1947 and 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians from a 1.9 million population were made refugees beyond the borders of the state. Zionist forces had taken more than 78 percent of historic Palestine, ethnically cleansed and destroyed about 530 villages and cities, and killed about 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities, including more than 70 massacres.

Palestinians in 1948, five months after the creation of Israel, leaving a village in the Galilee [Reuters]

Though May 15, 1948, became the official day for commemorating the Nakba, armed Zionist groups had launched the process of displacement of Palestinians much earlier. In fact, by May 15, half of the total number of Palestinian refugees had already been forcefully expelled from their country.

Israel continues to oppress and dispossess Palestinians to this day, albeit in a less explicit way than that during the Nakba.

What caused the Nakba?

The roots of the Nakba stem from the emergence of Zionism as a political ideology in late 19th-century Eastern Europe. The ideology is based on the belief that Jews are a nation or a race that deserve their own state.

From 1882 onwards, thousands of Eastern European and Russian Jews began settling in Palestine; pushed by the anti-Semitic persecution and pogroms they were facing in the Russian Empire, and the appeal of Zionism.

In 1896, Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl published a pamphlet that came to be seen as the ideological basis for political Zionism – Der Judenstaat, or “The Jewish State”. Herzl concluded that the remedy to centuries-old anti-Semitic sentiments and attacks in Europe was the creation of a Jewish state.

Though some of the movement’s pioneers initially supported a Jewish state in places such as Uganda and Argentina, they eventually called for for building a state in Palestine based on the biblical concept that the Holy Land was promised to the Jews by God.

In the 1880s, the community of Palestinian Jews, known as the Yishuv, amounted to three percent of the total population. In contrast to the Zionist Jews who would arrive in Palestine later, the original Yishuv did not aspire to build a modern Jewish state in Palestine.

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1517-1914), the British occupied Palestine as part of the secret Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916 between Britain and France to divvy up the Middle East for imperial interests.

In 1917, before the start of the British Mandate (1920-1947), the British issued the Balfour Declaration, promising to help the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, essentially vowing to give away a country that was not theirs to give.

READ MORE: How Britain Destroyed the Palestinian Homeland

Central to the pledge was Chaim Weizmann, a Britain-based Russian Zionist leader and chemist whose contributions to the British war effort during World War I (1914-1918) made him well-connected to the upper echelons of the British government. Weizmann lobbied hard for more than two years with British former Prime Minister David Lloyd-George and former Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour to publicly commit Britain to building a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.

By giving their support to Zionist goals in Palestine, the British hoped they could shore up support among the significant Jewish populations in the US and Russia for the Allied effort during WWI. They also believed the Balfour Declaration would secure their control over Palestine after the war.

From 1919 onwards, Zionist immigration to Palestine, facilitated by the British, increased dramatically. Weizmann, who later became Israel’s first president, was realising his dream of making Palestine “as Jewish as England is English”.

European Jews arrive from the Nazi holocaust wave into the Palestinian Arab city of Haifa, five weeks before Israel is declared a state [Reuters]

Between 1922 and 1935, the Jewish population rose from nine percent to nearly 27 percent of the total population, displacing tens of thousands of Palestinian tenants from their lands as Zionists bought land from absentee landlords.

Leading Arab and Palestinian intellectuals openly warned against the motifs of the Zionist movement in the press as early as 1908. With the Nazi seizure of power in Germany between 1933 and 1936, 30,000 to 60,000 European Jews arrived on the shores of Palestine.

In 1936, Palestinian Arabs launched a large-scale uprising against the British and their support for Zionist settler-colonialism, known as the Arab Revolt. The British authorities crushed the revolt, which lasted until 1939, violently; they destroyed at least 2,000 Palestinian homes, put 9,000 Palestinians in concentration camps and subjected them to violent interrogation, including torture, and deported 200 Palestinian nationalist leaders.

At least ten percent of the Palestinian male population had been killed, wounded, exiled or imprisoned by the end of the revolt

The British government, worried about the eruption of violence between the Palestinians and Zionists, tried to curtail at several points immigration of European Jews. Zionist lobbyists in London overturned their efforts.

In 1944, several Zionist armed groups declared war on Britain for trying to put limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine at a time when Jews were fleeing the Holocaust. The Zionist paramilitary organisations launched a number of attacks against the British – the most notable of which was the King David Hotel bombing in 1946 where the British administrative headquarters were housed; 91 people were killed in the attack.

In early 1947, the British government announced it would be handing over the disaster it had created in Palestine to the United Nations and ending its colonial project there. On November 29, 1947, the UN adopted Resolution 181, recommending the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

At the time, the Jews in Palestine constituted one third of the population and owned less than six percent of the total land area. Under the UN partition plan, they were allocated 55 percent of the land, encompassing many of the main cities with Palestinian Arab majorities and the important coastline from Haifa to Jaffa. The Arab state would be deprived of key agricultural lands and seaports, which led the Palestinians to reject the proposal.

Shortly following the UN Resolution 181, war broke out between the Palestinian Arabs and Zionist armed groups, who, unlike the Palestinians, had gained extensive training and arms from fighting alongside Britain in World War II.

READ MORE: How Israel’s violent birth destroyed Palestine

Zionist paramilitary groups launched a vicious process of ethnic cleansing in the form of large-scale attacks aimed at the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their towns and villages to build the Jewish state, which culminated in the Nakba.

While some Zionist thinkers claim there is no proof of a systematic master plan for the expulsion of Palestinians for the creation of the Jewish state, and that their dispossession was an unintended result of war, the presence of a Palestinian Arab majority in what Zionist leaders envisioned as a future state meant the Nakba was inevitable.

Why do Palestinians commemorate the Nakba on May 15?

The British occupation authorities had announced that they would be ending their mandate in Palestine on the eve of May 15, 1948. Eight hours earlier, David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister, announced what the Zionist leaders called a declaration of independence in Tel Aviv.

The British Mandate ended at midnight, and on May 15, the Israeli state came into being.

David Ben Gurion, centre, a Polish Jew, reads out what Israel called a declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. A photo of Herzl hangs in the backdrop [Reuters]

Palestinians commemorated their national tragedy of losing a homeland in an unofficial way for decades, but in 1998, the former President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, declared May 15 a national day of remembrance, on the 50th year since the Nakba.

Israel celebrates the day as its day of independence.

When did the process of displacement actually begin?

Though displacement of Palestinians from their lands by the Zionist project was already taking place during the British Mandate, mass displacement started when the UN partition plan was passed.

In less than six months, from December 1947 to mid-May 1948, Zionist armed groups expelled about 440,000 Palestinians from 220 villages.

Before May 15, some of the most infamous massacres had already been committed; the Baldat al-Sheikh massacre on December 31, 1947, killing up to 70 Palestinians; the Sa’sa’ massacre on February 14, 1948, when 16 houses were blown up and 60 people lost their lives; and the Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948, when about 110 Palestinian men, women and children were slaughtered.

How many Palestinians were displaced?

As units of the Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi armies invaded on May 15, the Arab-Israeli war was launched, and stretched until March 1949.

By the first half of 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians in total were forcibly expelled or fled outside of their homeland. Zionist forces had committed about 223 atrocities by 1949, including massacres, attacks such as bombings of homes, looting, the destruction of property and entire villages.

Some 150,000 Palestinians remained in the areas of Palestine that became part of the Israeli state. Of the 150,000, some 30,000 to 40,000 were internally displaced.

Like the 750,000 who were displaced beyond the borders of the new state, Israel prohibited internally displaced Palestinians from returning to their homes.

Palestinian Arabs leaving the port city of Jaffa as Zionist forces advanced on the city [Associated Press]

In the years that followed the establishment of Israel, the state extended its systematic ethnic cleansing. Though armistice agreements had been signed with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in 1949, the newly founded Israeli army committed a number of additional massacres and campaigns of forced displacement.

For example, in 1950, the remaining 2,500 Palestinian residents of the city of Majdal were forced into the Gaza Strip, about 2,000 inhabitants of Beer el-Sabe were expelled to the West Bank, and some 2,000 residents of two northern villages were driven into Syria.

By the mid-1950s, the Palestinian population inside Israel had become about 195,000. Between 1948 and the mid-1950s, some 30,000, or 15 percent of the population, were expelled outside the borders of the new state, according to the BADIL refugee rights group.

Is the Nakba over?

While the Zionist project fulfilled its dream of creating “a Jewish homeland” in Palestine in 1948, the process of ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians never stopped.

During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, known as the Naksa, meaning “setback”, Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and continues to occupy them until today. While under the UN partition plan Israel was allocated 55 percent, today it controls more than 85 percent of historic Palestine.

The Naksa led to the displacement of some 430,000 Palestinians, half of which originated from the areas occupied in 1948 and were thus twice refugees. As in the Nakba, Israeli forces used military tactics that violated basic international rights law such as attacks on civilians and expulsion. Most refugees fled into neighbouring Jordan, with others going to Egypt and Syria.

Little children play amid lines of laundry drying out at Baqaa Camp in Jordan for Palestinian refugees of the 1967 war – some were refugees from 1948 [The Associated Press]

What is the situation today?

The more than three million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem face home demolitions, arbitrary arrests, and displacement as Israel expands the 100-plus Jewish-only colonies and steals Palestinian land to do so. Palestinian movement is restricted by military checkpoints and the Separation Wall that has obstructed their ability to travel freely.

Palestinians wait to cross the Qalandia military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank as Israeli officers stand guard, in 2016 [Reuters]

The Gaza Strip, where some two million Palestinians live, has been under Israeli siege for more than a decade whereby Israel controls the air space, sea and borders; the Strip has also witnessed three Israeli assaults that have made the area close to uninhabitable.

READ MORE: Occupied words – On Israel’s colonial narrative

Within Israel, the 1.8 million Palestinians are an involuntary minority in a state for the Jews. Rights groups have recorded some 50 laws that discriminate against them for not being Jewish, such as ones that criminalise the commemoration of the Nakba.

Since the creation of Israel, no new Palestinian towns or cities were built within its borders, in contrast to the 600 Jewish municipalities that have been developed, according to Adalah, the legal centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Since 1948, some one million Palestinians have been arrested by Israel, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Additionally, some 100,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished (not including the Nakba or the Gaza wars), according to BADIL.

 There are hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and flying checkpoints in the West Bank, and between Israel and the West Bank where Palestinians must show proof of identification and be searched [Reuters]

Today, there are about 7.98 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons who have not been able to return to their original homes and villages.

Some 6.14 million of those are refugees and their descendants beyond the borders of the state; many live in some of the worst conditions in more than 50 refugee camps run by the UN in neighbouring countries.


SOURCE: Al Jazeera


Celebrating the Great March of Return

07 May 2018 – The Electronic Intifada

Not far from the protests on the Gaza boundary, families have been gathering every Friday since 30 March to participate in activities for the Great March of Return.

“People come here from all over Gaza,” said Majed Qadih, one of the attendees. Brought together by the collective demand to end the siege and return to their homeland, Palestinians celebrate their heritage with traditional food, song and dance. “Me and my children and my children’s children. We come here and we explain everything to them,” said Abedrabbo Abu Daqqa. “We tell them this is our land right before our eyes.”


A Day in the Life of an EA: Checkpoint duty

Not Dated | Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

Going through the checkpoint is not just a story of queues, turnstiles, and metal detectors, but encompasses the permit system for Palestinians and the sometimes arbitrary attitudes of Israeli soldiers. It is a story of daily humiliation and dehumanization, in stark contrast to every humans right to freedom of movement.

One of our regular tasks as EAs in Ar Ram is “checkpoint duty” at the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint. Qalandiya checkpoint stands between the two Palestinian cities of Ramallah and East Jerusalem. It is on the Separation Barrier, which is at this point not on the international border known as the Green Line, but some 8 km north-east, in Palestine.

Twice a week we arrive about 4.15am, as the queue of workers from Ar Ram and Ramallah begins to build up, and for three hours we monitor the queues and the length of time it takes to pass through, and count the numbers of men, women and children crossing the checkpoint.

At 4.15am, the checkpoint building is alive with birdsong, and fat sparrows hop backwards and forwards under the metal bars, doing very well on the crumbs left by men eating breakfast as they wait. The freedom of the birds to come and go as they please is in marked contrast to that of the Palestinian people.
Let me give you an idea of what is involved in crossing the checkpoint. First you wait in line in one of three metal cages that is just wide enough for one person. At the end of this cage is the first turnstile, which at busy times opens to allow perhaps 10 or 12 people through at a time and then closes again for several minutes.

Once through the first turnstile you go to one of 5 booths where you wait again at another turnstile. This turnstile usually opens to allow 3 people through, and then closes again for three or four minutes. You are then at the checkpoint proper, which is a little like airport security. You take off your shoes and jacket and belt and pile your possessions on a conveyor belt.

You walk through a body scanner and present your ID and permit for inspection by the soldier on duty. You may well have to have your handprint checked too. If all is in order you are free to pick up your possessions and pass through 3 further turnstiles before you reach the other side and the buses waiting to take you to Jerusalem.

The queue at the checkpoint during busier hours of the day. Photo EAPPI/B. Currie.

It sounds simple. It is anything but.  The permit system which controls the freedom of Palestinians to travel around their country is a story in itself – there are 101 sorts of permits for different sorts of need, many are temporary and the process for acquiring a permit is complex, time-consuming and stressful.

For now let us just say that, having reached the checkpoint, you may find that your permit has expired, or that it has been revoked, or that your handprint does not match that held on the database, or you have simply been “blacklisted” for some reason that you know nothing about.


Or, as happened recently to families embarking on a day out, you may have been told that you do not need permits for your under-5s, but when you get to the checkpoint window the soldier on duty arbitrarily decides that you do and refuses to let the children through. (The wonderful Israeli organisation Machsom Watch sorted that out very quickly for us by phoning the Commanding Officer).

For many Palestinians, crossing the checkpoint is a daily piece of frustration and humiliation inflicted upon them by the occupying power, Israel. For the most part they deal with it with stoicism and patience, though understandably resorting to some shouting and remonstrations when the queues stretch out to the car park and only two or three of the booths are open.

Even if your permit is fine, navigating the route through the checkpoint can be an obstacle course. There is a “humanitarian gate” for women, elderly or sick people. But it does not save you a single turnstile. And the turnstiles are a menace to small fingers and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying small children or bags and a walking stick.

One of the most moving things we witness is the lines of men who, having spent perhaps half an hour or more queueing to pass the checkpoint, stop to pray on the Jerusalem side before boarding their bus.


Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state”. But as an elderly man told me in frustration as he emerged into the sunshine on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint last week:

“I am 70 years old. I was born in Jerusalem. I need a permit to go there. Half my family is in Ramallah, half in Jerusalem. I’m not from Europe or Africa – I’m from Jerusalem. And I need a permit to go there.”

The article Early Morning at Qalandiya was originally published on the blog Through My Eyes and Ears.



Bedouin children take part in a demonstration outside the Be’er Sheva District Court against the planned demolition of Umm al-Hiran and Atir, two unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel’s Negev Desert, March 3, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

How colonialism and climate change displace the Negev’s Bedouin

14 March 2016 | Tom Pessah | +972

What do you think of when you think of a desert? An area with little precipitation, mostly uninhabited except perhaps by nomads? An empty place with no history, waiting to be filled with people and vegetation?

A new book by professor of architecture Eyal Weizman and photographer Fazal Sheikh unpacks these assumptions, and exposes how they are being used by Israel in displacing its Bedouin citizens in the Negev. The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Climate Change in the Negev Desert accomplishes this through a combination of groundbreaking research and striking photographs.

Deserts are most commonly defined as areas that receive less than 200 millimeters of annual rainfall. Areas that are beyond this isoheyt — the line that connects the points that receive this amount of rain — are said to be empty of permanent inhabitants, since it supposedly impossible to grow anything there.

Thus the Negev/Naqab has become a dumping ground for polluting industries, garbage, and radioactive storage sites. It houses military live-fire training zones as well as incarceration facilities for Palestinian prisoners and African refugees. During the 2014 conflict with Gaza, the Iron Dome anti-missile system was programmed not to protect this “empty” region.

Using Ottoman-era documents, aerial photographs from World War I and post-World War II, as well as testimonies from inhabitants, Weizman demonstrates how, since the end of the 19th century, Bedouin increasingly cultivated this area, using terraces, dams, canals, wells, and cisterns.

The pre-state Zionists recognized the Bedouins’ legal rights to the land when they attempted to buy land from them. The desert was never empty, but it was emptied of an estimated 90 percent of its Bedouin inhabitants between 1948 and 1953 in what the book terms the “Bedouin Nakba.” This involved massacres and widespread destruction of livestock and property.

The remaining inhabitants, those not driven into Jordan and Egypt, were concentrated in an enclosed area, the Siyaj (Arabic for “enclosure” or “fence”) — 1000 square kilometers, east of Be’er Sheva. Following the end of military rule in 1966, many of the inhabitants were transferred yet again, this time to townships further away from their ancestral land.

Others remained in villages which are to this day “unrecognized,” with no electricity, roads, water, or schools. Because they are not protected by Iron Dome, a resident of one of these villages was killed in July 2014 by a rocket from Gaza, while four of his family members were wounded. “Still, the state has not installed shelters in these villages, as it does in all other civilian communities; it advised the Bedouins to simply lie on the ground when they hear a rocket about to land with their hands protecting their heads” Weizman writes.

Ironically, the attempts to “make the desert bloom” by displacing the local inhabitants and replacing them with Jewish National Fund (JNF) forests may in fact be leading to desertification.

Weizman argues that the earth mounds built to irrigate trees stop most rainwater from reaching the valleys below, drying up the ecosystem and increasing salinity, making them less suitable for grazing. The trees absorb heat and water and remove it from their immediate environment, leading to overheating. Data on yearly increases in temperature suggests a local effect of climate change, in tandem with the global trend.

A man from the Zanoun family sits next to the ruins of his house a few hours after it was demolished in the unrecognized bedouin village of Wadi Al Na'am, Negev Desert, May 18, 2014. A women with her 5 children, the oldest of them is 5 years old, were living in the house demolished by the Israeli Land Administration. Wadi Al-am is the largest unrecognized village in Israel, with estimated 13,000 residents, most of them are internally displaced. The village is not connected to electricity. (Activestills.org)

The Conflict Shoreline documents not only this history of displacement and desertification, but also powerful and diverse forms of resistance: the father of the Bedouin lawyer, Nouri al-Uqbi, who refused until his death to pave the floor of the house in the township to which he was displaced to; al-Uqbi himself, who has accumulated over 70 indictments for his stubborn attempts to return to his land in the village of Al-Araqib, which the al-Uqbi family was told to evacuate for six months in 1951 because of a military exercise; the geographer Oren Yiftachel who painstakingly combed through the legal evidence to counter the state’s arguments that the land was empty (showing, for instance, that an often-quoted nineteenth-century British traveler, who reported that the area was empty, had visited it during an unusual period of drought); and the authors themselves – Fazal Sheikh, whose breathtaking aerial photographs document the different marks Bedouins have left on their land, and Eyal Weizman, who pores over World War II-era aerial photographs to uncover details of gardens, dams, plowed fields and livestock pens in this supposedly empty area. The text is accompanied by a series of historical and contemporary photographs, inviting the reader to participate in the legal detective work.

The Hebrew edition of the book was released in January in Al-Araqib, which has been destroyed close to 100 times to make room for a JNF forest. Hardly anything remains of the village, apart from its cemetery.

During the event, organized by Israeli NGO Zochrot, which tries to raise awareness of the Nakba among Israeli Jews, Weizman presented the findings to dozens of the village’s inhabitants, as well as activists from around the country. The event provided the locals with an opportunity to retake their land, thus demonstrating once again how academic research and art have amplified this dramatic local struggle.

Tom Pessah is a sociologist and activist, currently studying at Tel Aviv University.

Read This Day from Hawkins Bay Dispatch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s