Nakba Day 2013: 7 Million Palestinians Are Still Displaced, But Maybe Not For Long?
Tuesday May 15, Palestinians around the world commemorated the 65th anniversary of Nakba Day. Meaning "catastrophe" in Arabic, Nakba Day marks the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and subsequent exile as a result of the creation of Israel in 1948. While the exact number of displaced Palestinians is uncertain, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has registered 4.3 million into its database. Yet these numbers include only those and their decedents who were displaced in 1948, who were in need of assistance, and who happened to be located in areas in which the UNRWA actively operates. Palestinian NGO, BADIL instead estimates displaced Palestinians probably number upwards of 7 million.
This year Nakba Day events have included a 65-second mid-day siren along with street demonstrations across major cities in Palestine, as well as gatherings in Jerusalem and around the world. In a special speech broadcast on Palestinian television, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority reaffirmed the notion that Palestine had the right to become an independent state and that it had support from "a majority of the world's nation's, including the United States." To this end he called on Israel to show its good intentions to re-instate negotiations by releasing Palestinian prisoners. Sadly, along with the peaceful demonstrations and diplomatic speeches there have been numerous incidents of violence across Palestine and Israel. (Reports of the incidents vary depending on which sources you look at.)
However, perhaps on this Nakba Day there is renewed hope for Palestinians. Although the last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended over four years ago and have since faded into the background amid the financial crises in the West, the Arab spring, the deteriorating situation in Syria, and tensions in Asia, events over this past month or so suggest that a serious international peace effort, similar to that which took place in Madrid in 1991, may be on the horizon.
The first of these events took place back in March of this year, when Barack Obama finally made his first visit to Israel since becoming president in 2008, the same year in which peace talks had broken down. Then, shortly after Obama's trip, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry began making his rounds throughout the region. Next on April 29, the Arab League, which represents 22 countries in the region, revised its 2002 peace plan to reflect that of the official Palestinian stance. Now rather than calling for Israel's complete withdrawal to pre-1967 boarders, it has conceded a deal would probably have to involve some land swaps. Last, this past week, both Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas, took simultaneous official visits to China, suggesting the rising superpower could be interested in helping to broker a peace deal between the two.
While under scrutiny, nothing of substance actually came out of these events. Symbolically, though, this is good sign — especially for the Palestinians. Though Netanyahu faces little pressure domestically, as international pressure mounts, it will be increasingly difficult for Israelis to ignore the Palestinians' call for self-determination and to continue to occupy the Palestinian territory.