Nakba Day 2013: The Importance Of Commemorating "The Catastrophe"


May 15 marks the commemoration of Nakba Day. The Nakba, which means "the catastrophe" in Arabic, refers to the forcible expulsion of 700,000-800,000 Palestinians from their land in the time leading up to and following the creation the state of Israel in 1948. Contrary to claims that the Palestinians decided to leave, author and journalist Ben White points out that "those who left did not do so of their own volition." The cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine was part of deliberate strategy on the part of Zionist leaders. According to University of Exeter Professor Ilan Pappe, "Zionist leaders decided that the best means of making the vision of a Jewish Palestine possible was by forcefully dispossessing the Palestinians from their homeland."



Although it took place 65 years ago, the Nakba is still relevant given that, as the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) points out, it "is the source of the still-unresolved Palestinian refugee problem." Israel still refuses to adhere to the internationally recognised right of return for Palestinian refugees. Despite its continued relevance, or perhaps because of it, Noam Sheizaf argues in 972 magazine that recently "a trend of Nakba-denial has emerged in Jewish-Israeli political circles."

In 2011, Israel passed a law which authorized the government to withdraw funding from any organization that commemorates the Nakba. The chairman of the Committee on Civic Studies in the Education Ministry, Professor Asher Cohen of Bar-Ilan University, recently argued that the Nakba is not taught in the curriculum of civic studies or history in the Israeli school system because they deal with facts and not narratives. The Nakba, however, is not simply an important part of the narrative of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, it is also fact.

Image credit: Occupied Palestine

Moshe Sharett, Israel's second Prime Minister (1953-1955): 

"We have forgotten that we have not come to an empty land to inherit it, but we have come to conquer a country from people inhabiting it."

Image credit: Occupied Palestine

Yosef Weitz, director, Jewish National Fund Land Settlement Committee (1932-1948):

"... the transfer of [Palestinian] Arab population from the area of the Jewish state does not serve only one aim--to diminish the Arab population. It also serves a second, no less important, aim which is to advocate land presently held and cultivated by the [Palestinian] Arabs and thus to release it for Jewish inhabitants."

Image credit: Occupied Palestine

Moshe Dayan, chief of staff, Israel Defense Forces and Minister of Defense during the 1967 war:

"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either...There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population."

Over 500 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed during the Nakba. You can listen to some of the survivors or relatives of the survivors tell their own personal story here

Rather than attempting to deny what happened during the Nakba, or legislate away attempts to remember it, it should be remembered and discussed as a formative part of the history of Israel-Palestine relations. According to a new study cited by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz [behind a paywall unfortunately], teaching the Nakba does not weaken the national identity of Israeli students. On the other hand, it said that the current approach has a "negative influence on the degree of interest in encountering the other and understanding his point of view," thereby perpetuating intolerance.