What is Nakba?
The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war during which an estimated 7,60,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled — comprising around 80% of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of what became Israel.Before the Nakba, Palestine was a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. However, the conflict between Arabs and Jews intensified in the 1930s with the increase of Jewish immigration, driven by persecution in Europe, and with the Zionist movement aiming to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Nakba was the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian Arabs.
According to some estimates, Israel destroyed 531 Palestinian towns and villages, and killed a shocking 15,000 unarmed Palestinians during the Nakba.
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What led to the Nakba?
In November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution partitioning Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
The Arab world rejected the plan, arguing that it was unfair and violated the UN Charter.
Jewish militias then launched attacks against Palestinian villages, forcing nearly 800,000 people to flee.
The situation escalated into a full-blown war in 1948, with the end of the British Mandate and the departure of British forces, the declaration of independence of the State of Israel and the entry of neighbouring Arab armies.
The newly established Israeli forces launched a major offensive. The result of the war was the permanent displacement of more than half of the Palestinian population.
No compensation by Israel
As early as December 1948, the UN General Assembly called for refugee return, property restitution and compensation.
However, 75 years later, despite countless UN resolutions, the rights of the Palestinians continue to be denied.
According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, more than 5 million Palestine refugees are scattered throughout the Middle East. Today, Palestinians continue to be dispossessed and displaced by Israeli settlements, evictions, land confiscation and home demolitions.
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The Nakba had a profound impact on the Palestinian people, who lost their homes, their land, and their way of life.
It remains a deeply traumatic event in their collective memory and continues to shape their struggle for justice and for their right to return to their homes.
In 1998, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat proposed that Palestinians should mark the 50th anniversary of the Nakba declaring May 15, the day after Israeli independence in 1948, as ‘Nakba Day’, formalising a date that had been unofficially used as early as 1949.
In 2022, the UN General Assembly requested that Nakba’s anniversary be commemorated on May 15, 2023, for the first time in the history of the UN.
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What Israel says about the Nakba
Israeli officials have repeatedly said the term embodies an ‘Arab lie’ or as a ‘justification for terrorism’.
In 2009, the Israeli education ministry banned using ‘nakba’ in Palestinian textbooks for children.
In 2011, the Knesset (Israel parliament) forbade institutions from commemorating the event. The implementation of the new law unintentionally promoted knowledge of the Nakba within Israeli society.
After the UN instituted a commemoration day for the Nakba on May 15, 2023, the Israeli ambassador Gilad Erdan remonstrated that the event itself was antisemitic.
Many Jewish Israelis refer to the period of the Nakba as the birth of the state of Israel and their “War of Independence”.
(With inputs from agencies)
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