Thursday, May 15 marks 66 years since the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”): the dispossession, forced exile, and ethnic cleansing of some 750,000 Palestinians from their land before and during the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Sixty-six years later, Palestinians still face an ongoing Nakba as Israel continues to deny the right of return of displaced Palestinians and to illegally colonize Palestinian lands. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have now lived under a brutal Israeli military occupation for nearly 47 years, and Palestinians in Israel live under a system of apartheid – more than 50 laws enshrine their status as second-class citizens based on their ethnic and religious identity.
Below are some basic facts about the Nakba, produced by the Institute for Middle East Understanding.
To learn more about the Nakba, you can visit the websites of the Institute for Middle East Understanding and American Muslims for Palestine.
Other sites you can use to educate people about the continuing relevance of the Nakba and the importance of the Palestinian right of return for establishing a just and lasting peace are Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948 from the Institute for Palestine Studies; Ongoing Nakba Education Center from BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights; and Expressions of Nakba from the US Campaign to End the Occupation.
You can also check out and share the graphic from Visualizing Palestine on An Ongoing Dispossession: The Forced Exile of the Palestinians.
You can read the latest news related to the Nakba on Mondoweiss.
For an in-depth history of the Nakba and Plan Dalet, read Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
Al Jazeera in 2008 produced an award-winning series on the Nakba, which you can watch for free below.
Parts 1 & 2:
Parts 3 & 4:
Quick Facts: Israeli Independence & The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
Total number of Palestinians expelled during Israel’s creation (1947-49): Between 750,000 and 1 million.
Number of Palestinians expelled prior to Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, and the ensuing war with neighboring Arab states: Between 250,000 and 350,000.
Total number of Palestinian population centers systematically destroyed during Israel’s creation (1947-49): More than 400.
Number of population centers ethnically cleansed of their Palestinian Arab inhabitants by Zionist forces prior to Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, and the ensuing war with neighboring Arab states: More than 200.
Number of documented massacres of Palestinians by Zionist and Israeli forces during Israel’s creation: At least two dozen. The most notorious took place at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948, when more than 100 Palestinian men, women, and children were murdered by Zionist paramilitaries belonging to the Stern Gang and Irgun (led by future Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, respectively). These atrocities spurred the mass flight of Palestinians, and were instrumental in facilitating the creation of a Jewish-majority state in a region in which Palestinian Arabs were the majority.
Number of Palestinians who survived the expulsions, remaining within the borders of the new Israeli state: Approximately 150,000. Although granted Israeli citizenship, they were governed by Israeli military rule until 1966, had most of their land taken from them, and continue to suffer widespread, systematic discrimination today as non-Jews living in a “Jewish state.”
The total monetary loss of Palestinians dispossessed during Israel’s creation has been estimated at between of $100 billion and $200 billion (US) in today’s dollars.
The expulsion of the majority of the Arab population of what became Israel during the state’s establishment was not an unintended consequence of war, but rather a preconceived strategy of “transfer” to ensure the creation of a Jewish majority state. (See here for more on “transfer” in early Zionist thinking.) The military blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was called Plan Dalet (or Plan D) and was formally approved by the Zionist leadership on March 10, 1948. It called for:
- “Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.
- “Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state.”
In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which stated: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
Successive U.S. administrations supported Resolution 194 and consistently voted to affirm it until 1993, when the administration of President Bill Clinton began to refer to Palestinian refugee rights as a matter to be negotiated between the two parties in a final peace agreement, following the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Palestinian right of return has also been recognized by major human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In 2001, Amnesty International issued a policy statement on the subject, which concluded: “Amnesty International calls for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, along with those of their descendants who have maintained genuine links with the area, to be able to exercise their right to return.” (See here for more on the Palestinian right of return and international law.)
A survey released in 2010 by BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, found the Palestinian refugee and displaced population to be approximately 7.1 million, made up of 6.6 million refugees and 427,000 internally displaced persons. Most of them live in refugee camps in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, or in neighboring countries, often only a few miles away from the homes and lands from which they were expelled.