Remembering the Nakba: A 70 year struggle for justice
Israel's Wall in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Remembering the Nakba: A 70 year struggle for justice


By: Meena Ghani
Date: 15 May 2024
Campaigns: General

Today marks the 76 year anniversary of the Nakba (translated as “catastrophe” in Arabic) whereby 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homeland to make way for the creation of Israel.

This episode, which saw the uprooting of two-thirds of the Palestinian-Arab population, was characterised by shocking violence including the deaths of 15,000 people, the destruction of 530 Palestinian towns and villages, and a campaign of sexual violence against Palestinian women. Among the countless atrocities of the Nakba stands the notorious Deir Yassin massacre in which over 100 men, women, and children were killed by Zionist paramilitary groups – just one of many massacres that would come to define the Nakba.

As we commemorate the somber anniversary of the Nakba, it is crucial to understand the legacy of this traumatic event in Palestinian collective memory, how it shapes the community’s ongoing quest for justice, and the historical parallels between the events of 1948 and what’s unfolding in Gaza at present.

Certainly, the plight of Palestinians has escalated with alarming intensity in the last 220 days. Since 7 October 2023, 35,000 Palestinian civilians have reportedly lost their lives, an estimated 10,000 civilians remain trapped under debris, and over half of all residential buildings have been reduced to rubble.

But that’s not all. Israel’s refusal to allow international aid has ushered in a full blown famine in the region, the recent military operation in Rafah threatens further civilian casualties (including aid workers), and reports are now surfacing of mass graves having been discovered at three hospitals.

But make no mistake, these gross violations against Gazans did not begin last year. Rather, the Gaza Strip has long been referred to as an ‘open-air prison’ because of its status as one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Furthermore, Israel’s ongoing blockade has decimated the economy, limited access to clean water and electricity in the region, and placed restrictions on the movement of Gaza’s 2.1 million inhabitants.

As for the psychological toll of the blockade, a report released by Save the Children revealed that children in Gaza suffer from severe psychological issues including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and sleep disorders.

So why does Israel continue to act with impunity? For far too long the international community has remained silent as Israel has waged war on Palestinians. Despite successive UN resolutions condemning Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, little meaningful action has been taken to hold the country accountable over its human rights abuses.

Instead, Israel continues to enjoy the unwavering support of powerful allies such as the US, which donates billions in aid every year, refuses to curtail the supply of military weapons (until only recently) and vetoes all efforts to hold Israel accountable at the UN Security Council – thereby enabling Israel to maintain its military dominance over Palestine.

Meanwhile, Britain bears historic responsibility for the political situation unfolding in Palestine today. At the height of World War I, Britain enlisted the support of Palestinian Arabs against their Ottoman rulers with the promise of self-governance. Despite this, the government later endorsed the Balfour Declaration which identified Palestine as a Jewish homeland. The violence this contradictory stance would set in motion has haunted the region since.

Thereafter, Britain proceeded to add fuel to the fire by introducing a wave of militarism in the region. This included establishing a repressive police force in Palestine which supplied intelligence, materials, and manpower to later Zionist militias, instituting fortresses that would soon become permanent fixtures in the Palestinian landscape, and practicing punitive house demolitions as a disciplining mechanism against Arabs. Interestingly, the latter is also a popular mode of collective punishment against Muslims in India today.

A particularly disturbing aspect of Israel’s military prowess is its role as a leading exporter of advanced weaponry to repressive regimes around the world. Anthony Loewenstein’s research sheds light on how Israel’s booming arms industry has fuelled countless atrocities abroad.

Indeed, Israel has supplied military equipment to regimes notorious for human rights abuses, including Myanmar, South Sudan, and Chile. In Myanmar, for instance, Israeli weapons were reportedly used against Rohingya Muslims, contributing to one of the most egregious cases of ethnic cleansing. What’s more, Israeli weapons are first tried-and-tested on Palestinians before being marketed overseas – further demonstrating the importance of connecting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination with liberation movements across the world.

Despite the bleak situation in Gaza, however, there is hope on the horizon. Grassroots movements expressing solidarity with Palestinians have been gaining momentum globally – with workers shutting down arms factories that supply weapons used by the Israeli military to highlight the interconnectedness of struggles against militarism, imperialism, and oppression.

These actions speak to a larger wave of pro-Palestinian activism including the recent student encampments across university campuses in the US (and now the UK!), the countless pro-Palestinian marches in cities around the world, and the ever-increasing popularity of cultural boycott campaigns which call on artists, academics, and philosophers to refuse to engage in activities in Israel while the occupation continues.

As we reflect on the enduring legacy of the Nakba, there is a palpable sense of hope for a future where Palestinians can finally live in dignity.

Photo: Montecruz Foto (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)