Nakba Special: “We will return”
70 years of the Nakba is way too long. That many years of virtual freedom-stolen is unparalleled in the history of war. The cruelest thing about Palestinian suffering is the way in which the world has seemingly consented to the oppression by its silence and indifference. We cannot any longer believe in neutrality, balance or objectivity in political positioning chiefly when state power is used to dominate the Palestinians in the way they are. The catastrophe facing the Palestinian people is a defining global justice issue of our time as ‘War on Want’ puts it. It is not an intractable conflict between two equal sides. It is an Occupation by a powerful military state, armed and supported by the West, against an impoverished, stateless and displaced people.
Trump’s intent to inaugurate the US Embassy in Jerusalem has triggered outrage and protest even in what were once restrained political circles. In several protests that Palestinians have been accompanied in, they have asserted that their hopes remain un-extinguished. The key they carried with them when they were viciously dispersed is that symbol. Even if the chances that first generation refugees will never see their homes again, and many will already have died of old age, Palestinians deem the right of return as a non-negotiable political principle. The keys have been passed on from generation to generation as a keepsake - as a memory of their lost homes and as lasting symbols of their aspiration to reclaim justice."
A fourth generation of Palestinian children is now being brought up in refugee camps inside and outside Palestine, living in chronic poverty and denied the right to return to their family homes. Today, even these children dourly cling on to this optimism. It is seen in their art and music and what they wear. The sight of young men with neck chains with pendants in the shape of historical Palestine suggests that the vision of the right to return burns intensely. The claim to return has important representational value and must be conceded with a sense of respect for the dignity of the Palestinian and their just claims. And the voice keeps echoing: “We will return”!
An overview of the Nakba
(Excerpts from article in Al Jazeera)
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. 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.
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 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 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. 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. 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 realizing his dream of making Palestine "as Jewish as England is English".
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. 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.
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. 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.
Why do Palestinians commemorate the Nakba on May 15?
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. 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. 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.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.
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, and 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.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.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. 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 criminalize the commemoration of the Nakba. 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.
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The new Palestinian and the hope of return
The first generation that witnessed the Nakba in 1948 shouldered the burden of return for many years. They took their house key and a few things in a hurry, thinking they wouldn’t be gone for long. They thought they’d be gone for a few days or weeks. The courageous Arab forces were determined to destroy the occupier and crush it within hours. The valiant Arab forces believed they would be gone for a few days and then return triumphant and victorious after crushing the invaders and sending them away defeated. The refugee tents were put up and a year later, they turned into buildings with tin roofs and assigned names. These camps spread in Palestine and the Levant. They realized the conspiracy and began to take the reins and join the ranks of the Palestinian resistance, in all of its forms and names.
The entire world has worked to tame and control the Palestinians. They aim to force the Palestinians to surrender with a false promise of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders on the outside. Yet the new Palestinians have found themselves to be accused of being devious and left alone helpless without any support or power. The hypocritical world that sponsored the peace process is actually concerned with suppressing the Palestinians. This is because for the first time in decades, the main title of the act of popular resistance is the return to the Palestinian land occupied in 1948 and the arena for this act are the direct borders of the territories occupied in 1948.
Those observing the history of the Palestinian cause believe that the most important effect of this popular movement is the revival of the Palestinian memory of the old and new generations of Palestinians. They also believe that such popular action points the finger of blame directly at the occupation and considers the occupation the direct cause for everything the Palestinians are suffering due to the occupation of their land and the resulting effects of the occupation.
The popular movement also tells all of the countries that sponsored the peace process that the deception and deceit they practiced over the past years has been exposed. The movement also says that the concession of the Palestinians’ historical rights was a mistake that must be reversed because the world does not give any importance to the Palestinian intentions that at some point wanted to achieve an agreement and historical reconciliation. None of the countries of the world managed to stand in the face of the biased sponsor of the peace process and therefore all attempts to revive the dead peace process, whether made by Europeans, Arabs, or others.
Despite the simplicity of this resistance, it has disrupted the occupation’s calculations, and it is constantly looking for a way to end this popular movement before May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba.
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