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The Nakba: 69 years old and still destroying lives Open in fullscreen

Seraj Assi

The Nakba: 69 years old and still destroying lives

For nearly 10 million Palestinians either under occupation or in exile, the catastrophe continues [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 15 May, 2017

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Comment: For many Palestinians, Israel's stubborn denial of the Nakba continues to pose an obstacle to lasting peace and historical reconciliation, writes Seraj Assi.

In the story of the Judgment of Solomon, King Solomon is asked to rule between two women both claiming to be the mother of the same child. The wise king suggests cutting the baby in two, handing half to each woman.

The first woman concedes to the ruling, whereas the other begs Solomon to give the baby to the first woman, and spare him the sword. The king declares the second woman the true mother, assuming a mother would give up her baby to save his life.

My father recounts this story every Nakba Day, which marks its 69th anniversary this week. In his telling, 70 years ago, as the British packed up and left Mandate Palestine for good - having handed over its future to the United Nations - Arabs in Palestine had their own Judgment of Solomon moment: The Partition of Palestine.

Today, Palestinians remember with bitter irony that day in November 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed its historic resolution to partition Mandate Palestine between Arabs and Jews, ultimately leading to the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.

To many Palestinians, the partition plan, aka Resolution 181, was Solomonic justice gone awry: The plan passed at a time when Palestine was two-thirds Arab (Muslims and Christians) and one-third Jewish, and when Jewish land ownership barely exceeded seven percent.

Arabs and Palestinians refused, and quite rightly so, to split the land in half

What's more, the plan allocated to the Jewish state about 56 percent of historic Palestine (excluding Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which were to remain under international control administered by the United Nations), with a mere 43 percent to the future Arab state. The following year, on May 14, 1948, Israel, emboldened by the partition plan, declared its independence, and not long after, the new state was recognised by a majority of United Nations member states, led by the United States.

  Read more: Call it what you wish, it amounts to Apartheid

In a tragically ironic parody of the biblical story, the wrong mother claimed and won the baby. In Palestinian national memory, motherhood and motherland seem to have more in common than shared etymology.

Arabs and Palestinians refused, and quite rightly so, to split the land in half.

One day after Israel declared its independence, four Arab states, led by Egypt, declared war on the nascent Jewish state, only to be crushed by it in a space of months.

Israel must recognise and acknowledge responsibility for the Nakba

By July1949, the two parties had reached a series of separate agreements, culminating in the re-demarcation of formal armistice lines between Israel and its Arab neighbours. As a result, Israel seized four-fifths of historic Palestine, Jordan annexed the West Bank, while Egypt took hold of the Gaza Strip. An independent Arab Palestine, meanwhile, became a distant mirage.

About 750,000 Palestinians were either expelled or fled their homes and became lifetime refugees

In the mass expulsion that both preceded and followed the war, about 750,000 Palestinians were either expelled or fled their homes and became lifetime refugees. In the coastal city of Jaffa, the largest Arab city in Mandate Palestine, of the 75,000 Arab Jaffans, only about 3,000 remained. Palestinians refer to this chapter of history as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Read more: Peace for Palestinians begins with recognising the Nakba

Palestinians everywhere observe the day of Israel's creation as the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic). Today, Nakba Day marks an annual day of commemoration of the loss of Palestine and the mass displacement of Palestinians that accompanied the founding of Israel.

And yet, while hanging like a moral albatross around its neck, Israel has never accepted responsibility for the Nakba. To make things worse, seven years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed a Kafkaesque bill that called on the government to deny funding to any organisation, institution or municipality that commemorates the founding of Israel as a day of mourning.

The bill, known as the Nakba Bill, was the most recent in a series of official gestures illustrating Israel's continued denial of Palestinian loss and suffering. To many Palestinians, Israel's stubborn denial of the Nakba continues to pose an obstacle to lasting peace and historical reconciliation.

Today, Palestinians are exhausted, impoverished, dispersed and leaderless

Today, Palestinians are exhausted, impoverished, dispersed and leaderless. The prospect of Palestinian statehood has never been dimmer, thanks to Israel's ever-growing expansion into Palestinian land and the proliferation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In Gaza, some 1.5 million Palestinians are squeezed into 146 square miles, besieged by both Israel and Egypt, fearing the looming prospect of a new Israeli invasion. In Israel, about 1.7 million Palestinians (20 percent of the population) have been downgraded to the rank of second-class citizens, thanks to a cluster of Jewish-only bills passed by the Knesset.

In Arab countries, Palestinian refugees continue to live in dire conditions in inhospitable refugee camps, deprived of basic human rights. In host countries such as Syria, Palestinian refugees captured in the midst of bloody civil war, are internally displaced at a constant and terrifying pace.

Exiled Palestinians and their grandchildren the world over are still waiting to return to their homeland

Exiled Palestinians and their grandchildren the world over are still waiting to return to their homeland. For nearly 10 million Palestinians - now under occupation or in exile - the Nakba is an ongoing event.

For seven decades, Palestinians have fought for freedom, justice and liberation, a modern odyssey marked by their quixotic quest for statehood, punctuated by memories of loss and defeat, demise and survival, heroism and betrayal, erasure and steadfastness. To most Palestinians today, both in occupied Palestine and the Diaspora, justice also means historical justice, and it begins with the recognition of their tragedy.

In the popular imagination of old Palestinian men like my father, the Solomon parable figures today as a living allegory for the loss of Palestine, a perfect incarnation of the Judgment of Solomon, minus the justice.

The road to lasting peace in Palestine begins with historical reconciliation, and if a true historical reconciliation is ever to reign between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel must recognise and acknowledge responsibility for the Nakba.


Seraj Assi holds a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Georgetown University, where he currently serves as a visiting researcher in Israel/Palestine history.
  

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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