Reflecting on an ongoing Nakba
It is difficult to decide on a point of departure when discussing the limitless impact of the Nakba (The Catastrophe) of 1948. The extent of its implications may prove to be unknowable, as the extent of its malice unfathomable, but its redirection of Palestinian history is undeniable.
We may opt to analyze the Nakba in terms of loss and damage. What, then, do we take as our basic unit of account? The individual? The family? The nation? The village? The country? The strong sense of patrie and patria jolting through generations of Palestinians renders all of these to be integral parts of, and inseparable from, the Palestinian identity. Similarly, all of these pillars were targeted for destruction by Zionist militias: Individuals were summarily murdered; families separated; the nation fragmented; villages destroyed; the country occupied and renamed. Over 780,000 Palestinians were forced out in 1948, never to return, taking only their keys and memories as physical embodiments of a culture decided by Europeans to be not worth preserving, and of a people decidedly not worthy of Western justice.
Perhaps we instead choose to study the events that made up the Nakba—the massacres, rapes, plunders, torture and expulsions among others—and define the impact as the sum of their parts. To do this, one observes the massacres such as those at: Deir Yassin where Zionist terrorist militias killed 200 Palestinians, “whole families were riddled with bullets and grenade fragments and buried when houses were blown up on top of them”(Morris, Righteous Victims) and there is “no doubt many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews” (Lapierre, Collins, O Jerusalem!); Safsaf where an indigenous testimony recalls “a few Jewish soldiers asked them [the Palestinian residents] to carry water for the soldiers. Instead they took them to our empty houses and raped them. About 70 of our men were blindfolded and shot to death.” (Nazzal, the Palestinian Exodus from Galillee, 1978); and Dawaymeh where Israeli soldiers recount killing one hundred Arabs & smashing children’s skulls with clubs (Gilmour, dispossessed). With the violent and repressive silencing of Palestinians, the continued blind deflection of criticism of Israel by Jewish religious institutions, and the disproportionate power structure favoring Nakba deniers, this method has purposely been hardened.
A more empirical approach, analyzing the Nakba by the series of events it directly set into action, is even more revealing. In the immediate aftermath of the 1948 expulsions, the Zionist Organization’s offices and powerful friends in Western capitals not only denied the Zionist forces’ aggression, but claimed the ‘Arabs’—for they would never admit a Palestinian identity—fled entirely of their own volition. This argument, along with the declaration and subsequent recognition of Israel as a state by Western capitals, normalized the existence of Israel and, by virtue of this, both the 1947-48 expulsions of Palestinians, and non-existence of a Palestinian consciousness.
As Edward Said recounts in “The Question of Palestine”: “After several decades of treating the Arabs as if they were not there at all, Zionism came fully into its own by actively destroying as many Arab traces as it could. From a nonentity in theory to a nonentity in legal fact, the Palestinian Arab lived through the terrible modulation from one sorry condition to the other, fully able to witness, but not effectively to communicate, his or her own civil extinction in Palestine.”
This is the Nakba. It is the cementing of this European settler-colonial project’s grip on indigenous land it has no right to; it is the emergence of Israel at the expense of Palestine. In its oppressive and expansionist sense, the Nakba has never ended, aided by the “Brand Israel” efforts of anti-Palestinian advocates, by unconditional U.S. & UN support in the face of the international community, and by a McCarthyite security apparatus threatening the livelihoods of all who speak against it—notable recent examples include Israel’s travel ban on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist Omar Barghouti, and Israeli minister calling for “Civil Targeted Killings” of BDS Leaders. It is the same currents of Zionist expansionism, exclusivism, and hegemony over the Palestinians, which forced the events of 1948 that maintain its continuity through the crippling illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, land-annexations in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and ethnic cleansing of 1948 Palestinians, and Jerusalem residents. The Nakba is not over until this settler-colonial project is, and Palestinians have freedom, justice, and equality.