Ahead of The Nakba anniversary on May 15 Interpal’s Yasmin Khan describes the harrowing events of 1948 and the consequences of them that afflict Palestinians today.
“Al Nakba” translates as “The Catastrophe” and is the name given to the events in 1948 which saw over 750,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes, thousands killed and families separated from each other, to make way for the newly declared state of Israel.
When you work on the issue of Palestine and you have been privileged enough to travel and work with people in the occupied territories or Lebanon and Jordan, you realise how the trauma of the Nakba has been passed from generation to generation.
Calling what happened a “catastrophe” is an understatement. The Nakba set the stage for millions to be born into poverty, refugee-hood and instability. Sixty-six years later and the catastrophe has not abated and is lived everyday by those struggling to outrun the tragedies of the past and find an end to the miseries of today.
Stories of the Nakba are both horrifying and heartbreaking. The infamous Deir Yassin Massacre is synonymous with Palestinian suffering and it is galling that there are websites dedicated to claiming it was a “hoax” to further add insult to injury and to delegitimise the Palestinian narrative.
This repeated denial and obfuscation of what happened in 1948 has meant that all suffering of Palestinians since their mass displacement is also denied and belittled. People have been led to believe what happened was somehow a sad fact of war when Arabs fought Jews, rather than the consequence of ethnic cleansing and land theft.
Palestinians have found themselves targeted in many of the conflicts in the Middle East, used as pawns to score points and made especially vulnerable by their refugee status and lack of political power. The right of return has been denied to Palestinians, leaving them in a form of limbo and insecurity. There are now over 5 million Palestine refugees and the Palestinian refugee crisis is the longest running refugee crisis in the world.
Over the last sixty-six years Palestinians have often been denied a voice in their own affairs and framed as the party at fault, even as their bodies and homes are devastated by US-funded Israeli bombs.
West Bank and Gaza
The Nakba is not merely a historical event to commemorate, it is important we recognise that the catastrophe never ended. Instead it has been a series of tragedies, setbacks and struggles and the situation is as bad now as it has ever been.
The West Bank is split into restricted ghettoes surrounded by a hostile occupying army and fanatical settlers allowed to harass, attack and murder Palestinians with impunity . Checkpoints, arbitrary arrests and human rights violations are a daily reality making getting married, getting a job or getting to school hazardous and exhausting.
The Gaza Strip, is under a brutal siege (from both Israel and Egypt) leaving its 1.8 million population isolated and impoverished. The UN has stated that if the conditions causing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are not immediately addressed, it will be “unliveable by 2020.”
According to the United Nations, 80% of people in the Gaza Strip are reliant on aid assistance and a third of people in the occupied territories are extremely food insecure. Unemployment is as high as 41%, and even higher for recent graduates, and the economy continues to stagnate, crippling chances of breaking the dependence on aid. In the Gaza Strip, former Israeli settlements are used to farm produce that cannot be exported due to the blockade, preventing economic growth and potential for development.
Across the occupied territories, many Palestinians are mere kilometres from the homes they were forced to leave, and yet are unable to return home. The Separation Wall built by Israel has annexed land, separated families and restricted the freedom of movement for Palestinians, but is also a physical manifestation of the denial of the right of return.
The Wall runs alongside Aida camp in Bethlehem, painted with bright protest street art and acting as the backdrop to a giant “key of return” sculpture at the entrance of the camp. The occupied Palestinian territories are where racism, subjugation and resistance to it are built into the landscape, and it was often hard to comprehend and seemed almost like something out of dystopian fiction.
The Palestinians that fled to Lebanon are denied basic civil, political and economic rights, including being banned from over 70 professions, whilst 60% of Palestinian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line.
The refugees in Lebanon have witnessed and experienced shocking violence and seen their camps and unarmed civilians repeatedly targeted during conflict. The Sabra and Shatila Massacre in 1982 remains a horror story in the annals of Palestinian history and it is worth noting that to this day no one has been brought to justice for the atrocities committed against over 2,000 unarmed civilians.
The camps in Lebanon are squalid, and increasingly unable to cope with the growing population and the incoming refugees from Syria. The camps have poor water and electrical networks, which are both health hazards and living conditions in the camps are beyond deplorable.
The generation that experienced the Nakba and the struggles of life in exile are now dying out, the dream of return unfulfilled and witnessing a growing apathy and loss of hope amongst their children and grandchildren.
The worsening Syrian crisis has now brought new levels of misery for Palestinian refugees. Refugees in Syria used to enjoy a fairly stable situation, however over 250,000 have fled to neighbouring countries where they struggle with poverty, trauma and exploitation. Those that remain are internally displaced or languishing in besieged camps such as Yarmouk, forced to slowly starve or risk death to escape.
A small number of Palestinians from Syria have sought refuge in Gaza, now coping with the trauma of war and trying to start from scratch in a besieged giant open air prison.
The situation is bleak, however Palestinians have little choice but to do what they have been doing for sixty-six years; showing the world how you cope with catastrophe. The Nakba was not a natural disaster, but was deliberately brought upon a vulnerable population and it has never relented.
The resistance and strength exhibited by Palestinians in the face of so much injustice is both inspiring and remarkable and when remembering the Nakba it is important to make connections to the present and the future and recognise that we are not just commemorating a sad chapter in history but acknowledging an unacceptable ongoing injustice.
Interpal will be hosting an event to commemorate The Nakba on May 18 in London. All people who mention they saw the ad on 5 Pillarz will get a £5 discount, with the promotional code: 5PLZ14.
Time & Date: 18/05/14 Doors open @ 4pm
Venue: The Porchester Hall, Porchester Rd, Bayswater, London W2 5HS
Booking by phone: 0208 961 9993