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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


The grim history behind the Nakba and why we must remember it

Seventy years have passed since the Nakba, the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians from their ancestral homeland in 1948. Over 400 Palestinian towns and cities were either razed by Israeli forces or destroyed for the repopulation of Jewish settlers.

The Nakba was deliberate and systematic of the Zionist movement that emerged in central and eastern Europe in the late 1800s. The goal of Zionism was the establishment of a Jewish state by colonization of Palestine, at the expense of another people.

Massacres of Palestinian civilians by Zionist terrorist organizations played a key role in spreading fear throughout the Palestinian population, contributing to the exodus of Palestinians from their homes.

In fact, the first Zionists that arrived in Palestine in 1882 considered the native Palestinians simply as part of nature’s hardship that needed to be dealt with in order to establish their state. In 1917 when Palestine was still under British Occupation, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour promised the Zionist movement a nation for Jewish people in Palestine.

As Ilan Pappé writes in his book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the occurrence of multiple events following the Balfour declaration — including the 1936 Palestinian revolt against the British — aided Zionist experts in building detailed files of the dynamic of each Palestinian village they planned to attack.

Many Palestinians who fled the violent forces were first internally displaced, and then sought refuge in neighboring Arab countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They did not intend to be away from their homes for too long, thinking the armies of neighboring Arab countries would defeat the Israeli forces.

And yet, there came the establishment of refugee camps such as Yarmouk Camp in Syria, from which Palestinians have had to flee again due to another ruthless and bloody war, and Ain al-Hilweh in Lebanon, where they have remained for generations raising families and awaiting their return to Palestine.

There are also well-known refugee camps established by displaced Palestinians within Palestinian territories. The West Bank has 19 camps. Balata and Shu’fat camps are the most densely populated of the 19, with populations of 27,000 and 24,000 Palestinians, respectively. 

Within the Gaza strip, there are eight camps serving as living quarters for the refugee population, which comprises approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s total population.

This is because of the large influx of Palestinians into Gaza as a result of the Nakba. The environment is increasingly volatile as citizens are fed up with abhorrent living conditions in what historian and political activist Noam Chomsky has referred to as the “world’s largest open-air prison.” 

The Nakba is still ongoing as the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in order to make room for more Jewish settlers continues. The refugee crisis still has not been resolved.

The Palestinian diaspora commemorates the initial mass expulsion in 1948 every year, asserting ties to their roots and demanding the right to return.

Opinion columnist Sarah Tawashy is a human nutrition and foods sophomore and can be reached at [email protected].

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