May 15 marks the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, when Jewish immigrants from Europe conquered 78% of the British mandate of Palestine, forcibly expelled the vast majority of its Arab inhabitants, and created what is today known as the state of Israel. For the Palestinian Arabs – who are today either locked away in an open air prison camp in Gaza, living under occupation in the West Bank, or living in exile in another country – the events of the years 1947-1949 were the culmination of a process that began in the 1880s when the first immigrants from Europe began to call Ottoman-controlled Palestine their home. The Balfour Declaration issued in 1917 upon Great Britain’s seizure of Palestine in the aftermath of World War I designated Palestine the national homeland of the world’s Jews. It disregarded entirely the will of the vast majority of the people who at that time resided in this newly declared homeland.
1948 marked the year of the official creation of the state of Israel in the historic land of Palestine. For Jews, many of them having arrived recently from Europe where they’d nearly been annihilated, this was their moment of liberation after more than a millennia of both religious and ethnic persecution in eastern and western Europe alike. But for the Arabs of Palestine (of all religions though predominately Muslim since the 7th century) who’d inhabited the land for at least 1,400-1,600 years, it marked the beginning of their massive dispossession and humiliation when everything they’d known and loved was taken from them. Though later narratives would try to distort reality by insisting the Palestinian Arab population – who’d stayed put during 30 years of the British Mandate period and 4 centuries under the rule of the Ottoman Turkish empire – simply left on their own initiative believing that neighboring Arab armies would “drive the Jews into the sea”, the truth of the matter is that the Palestinian Arabs were driven from their homes following acts of sheer terrorism carried out by armed militia groups like the Stern Gang and Irgun. Massacres, such as those in the Palestinian villages of Deir Yassin, Abu Shusha, Beit Daras, al-Khisas, Lydda and many others were meant to stoke fear in the hearts of non-Jewish residents so that they would flee the territory.
The process of annexing all of Palestine is one that is ongoing to this day. According to Palestinian scholar Joseph Massad, the final victory has not yet been won, that Palestinians have demonstrated to the world through their resistance that the Nakba is a process happening in the present that can be reversed. “Israel’s inability to complete its mission of thoroughly colonizing Palestine” says Massad, “of expelling all Palestinians, of ‘gathering’ all Jews in the world in its colony, keeps it uneasy and keeps its project always in the present continuous.” Resistance will continue until all the people of Palestine are free from the river to the sea.
Al-Nakba: the Palestinian Catastrophe – documentary series by Al Jazeera