AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): Remembering the Nakba--an act of nonviolent revolution

19 May 2016
AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): Remembering the Nakba--an act of nonviolent revolution

[Note: The following piece by a Hebron CPTer has been edited for length.  The original is available on his blog.]

Every 15 May, Palestinians remember the Nakba (Great Catastrophe).  The Nakba refers to the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians during the late 1940s as Jewish Zionists were establishing the Israeli state.  The facts of the Nakba are as shocking as they are unknown to the West.  And those of us in the West are responsible for this ignorance. 

Following WW II and the Holocaust, the United Nations, influenced heavily by Zionist lobbying and the need to secure a home for the thousands of Jews displaced by the Holocaust, split the British Mandate of Palestine.  The partition is a historic example of European colonial privilege trumping the interests and rights of local communities.  At the time of the partition, European Jews owned only 7% of the land and were only 33% of the population.  Yet the United Nations allocated 55% of the land for the establishment of a Jewish state and 42% for the re-establishment of an Arab Palestinian state.  Jerusalem, comprising the remaining 3%, was to be an international city.  Palestinians had no voice and no representation in the partition.

Palestinian refugees carry their belongs after Zionist forces push them off their lands.

Immediately after the plan passed, violence between Palestinians destined for dislocation and Zionists who would be taking their homes broke out.  Heavily armed and militarily trained, the Zionists began uprooting and ethnically cleansing Palestinians from not only the 55% allocated to them but also from the 42% allocated to the Palestinians.  By the time they were done in 1949, Israel controlled 78% of the land.  Outside Arab nations, slow to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians, eventually tried militarily to resist the advancing Zionist forces but were defeated.  During the Nakba:

  • Zionist forces uprooted between 750,000 and 1,000,000 Palestinians from their homes and turned them into refugees.
  • There were at least twenty-four known massacres of Palestinians by Zionist and Israeli military forces.
  • Word of these massacres spread quickly and tens of thousands of Palestinians abandoned their homes and villages and fled from fear that they would be slaughtered as well. Zionist forces completely destroyed 400 villages and erased from existence or took them over and renamed them. Zionist forces destroyed cultural centers; places of worship, homes and records of ownership, all in an attempt to erase any legal claim Palestinian refugees might have for returning.
  • Close to 4,244,776 acres of land were taken from the Palestinians as part of the creation of the state of Israel.

 Palestinians also remember the Nakba because, as a tool of forced dispossession, forced migration, and ethnic cleansing, the Nakba is still happening in Palestine and Israel.  Every day, Israel destroys Palestinian homes, uproots families, claims more land in the West Bank for illegal settlements, drives farmers off of their land, imprisons children, and murders youth.  Israel justifies much of its actions by parading security concerns before the West, and the United States, especially, eats it up.  Thus remembering the Nakba is a call to never forget what was taken and a call to act against what Israel is still taking. 

For the citizens of the United States the Nakba is a harsh reprimand.  For the last sixty-eight years, the United States has worked diligently to assure that Israel avoids accountability for its actions during the Nakba and to assure that Israel continues to have license to violently colonize Palestine.  Using its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the United States has vetoed forty-two resolutions designed to hold Israel accountable.  Additionally, the U.S. gives Israel billions of taxpayer dollars every year to beef up its military and replenish the bullets and teargas that Israeli forces use against the Palestinians.  2016’s allocation, which will likely be an increase from $3 billion to $5 billion, will be the largest military package the U.S. has ever offered Israel.  U.S. taxpayers and voters, whether we like it or not, ultimately bear some responsibility for the United States’ role in supporting Israeli violence and the continuance of the Nakba.

Palestinians flee the advancing Zionist forces.

Owning and bearing that responsibility is tricky.  Indeed, it is easiest to plead ignorance.  After all, U.S. citizens have consumed one consistent narrative since the Holocaust and the creation of the Israeli state.  That narrative is that Israel is a country under siege.  Those in the United States have been conditioned to trust our elected officials and media sources and those elected officials and media sources have always told us that Israel was righteous.  And so, because we have blindly trusted, we have allowed ourselves to remain ignorant of the truth.  We reason that this excuse covers us and washes away our responsibility.  Instead, it reveals our privilege and our cruelty.

This year, as I remember the Nakba in Hebron in solidarity with the Palestinians, I am struck by a new understanding of the role of remembrance.  Remembering the Nakba is not just a memorial of loss for the Palestinians; remembering the Nakba is not just an act of resistance that tells Israel and the world that the Palestinian people will not forget what is rightfully theirs.  Remembering the Nakba is also a nonviolent weapon wielded against the occupation and the sentimentalities of the Israelis and the Americans that support it.  Remembering cries out, “We will not let you forget!  We will not let you turn a blind eye to our right to exist and our right to return!”

Remembrance in this sense is an act of revolution.  It is the oppressed and the marginalized, it is the attacked and the violated, it is the poor and the robbed, refusing to allow comfort to settle in for those who have stolen from them.

And so for those of us who are privileged and comfortable, I hope that today we can take time to remember what has been stolen so that we can be here.  I hope that we will remember the downtrodden.  And I hope that in this remembering we will have sleepless nights, uncomfortable silence, loss of appetite, and regret.  And I hope that in remembering we will be spurred to action to give up our comforts and disavow our privilege so that others may find rest and peace and may return home.

Christian Peacemaker Teams Palestine is committed to remembering what the Nakba means and continues to mean for our partners in Palestine.  Support turning those memories into action.