May 15, 2024

The Nakba: Examining a catastrophe in the Palestinian narrative

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by The Philos Project

Coinciding with Israeli Independence Day, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the uprooting of hundreds of thousands from their homes during the Arab-Israeli War. We must delve into this historical event to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The narrative and events of the Nakba, which led to suffering and violence on both sides of this conflict, are still used today by extremists such as Hamas to perpetrate violence against the Jewish state.

Why is the Nakba important in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The Nakba speaks of a collective trauma at the center of Palestinian political identity and is the heartbeat of the fight for Palestinian nationalism. Every year, on the anniversary of Israel’s independence, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba by demonstrating, striking, and protesting the events of 1948.

The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” or “disaster” in Arabic, refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians in 1948 after the founding of Israel during the Arab-Israeli War. Many Palestinians refused to recognize the 1948 UN Partition Plan, and consequently, Israeli troops forcibly moved Palestinians from Israeli territory as tensions surrounding the war escalated. In total, ~700,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from Israeli territories, beginning the Palestinian refugee status under the UNHCR.

Misconceptions about the Nakba

The tragedy of the Nakba has evolved into a story justifying radicalized Palestinian liberation movements, telling a narrative where Palestinians lacked agency for the plight that has befallen them. In this narrative, Israel is to blame for their sufferings to delegitimize Zionism.

The historical reality is that Palestine’s Arabs consistently rejected and even boycotted political proposals for compromise during the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. This included the rejection of the 1937 Peel Commission Partition Proposal which included a Jewish state on only 17% of the land, with the largest contiguous partition going to Palestine.

“From the River to the Sea” has been the framework of Arab Palestinian nationalism since the Balfour Declaration of 1917. This zero-sum political framework has spoiled any attempt at compromise and peace. This same ideology is a cornerstone of the Hamas Charter, and violence perpetuated today.

Even before 1948, violence was a justified form of resistance in the Arab Palestinian worldview. In April 1920, May 1921, and August 1929, Arab mobs turned on their Jewish neighbors in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Hebron, and Safad, in what would be murderous pogroms that spoiled goodwill for successful peace negotiations. And still today, the radicalized narrative of the Nakba is the story of injustice at the hands of colonial settlers, and thus all violence is justified resistance.

Political Policies of Nakba

An accusation of the Nakba narrative is that there was an Israeli master plan/policy to expel the Arabs. There is no proof of this at the bureaucratic level, however, the individual Israeli generals and officers who perpetrated crimes of expulsion were never held accountable.

The uncomfortable reality is the Israeli-Palestinian story has been one of conflict and war, including the displacement of Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews who lived in the land prior to 1948.

The Nakba is a tragic story of Palestinians who lived in their communities for generations and were forced to leave their lives, businesses, and land. Many of these people were not radical politicians but innocents caught in the middle of post-war decolonization. The radicalization of the Nakba narrative should not overshadow and undermine the devastation many experienced in being uprooted during the 1948 war.

However, the Nakba is not justification for continued violence in this conflict.


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