Wed 12-June-2024

The world must stop a second Nakba 76 years after the first

Wednesday 15-May-2024

Every year, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba (the Arabic word for “catastrophe”) of May 1948, when the establishment of the state of Israel caused the displacement of more than 750,000 people, the demolition of hundreds of villages, and the seizure of nearly 80 percent of historic Palestine.

This year, Palestinians commemorate this event in light of an ongoing second Nakba – perhaps the most horrific and the bloodiest in the history of the Palestinian people.

Today, 76 years after the first Nakba, the wounds are still open, as millions of Palestinian refugees have been denied their right of return to their homeland, while Israel has occupied the rest of their territories in a continuing quest to erase the Palestinian people.

My father is one of those refugees. He was born in Haifa in 1931, but he passed away before realizing his right of return.

This year, the descendants of displaced Palestinians need not commemorate the painful memories of the catastrophe, because they are reliving it. It is as though each Palestinian generation is destined to live their own Nakba. This time, Israel is committing a genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

After launching its war on Gaza, Israel ordered residents of northern and central Gaza to leave their homes, prompting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to move southwards. Israeli warplanes targeted families as they fled.

This campaign to displace and kill Palestinians, while preventing most of the population from returning to their homes, is reminiscent of the 1948 Nakba.

Settler violence
This link between the Nakba and the war on Gaza is not perceived only by Palestinians. Top Israeli officials have talked openly of a second Nakba, with Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter describing the displacement of Palestinians from the north to the south as the “Gaza Nakba 2023”, and Knesset member Ariel Kallner calling for a second Nakba in Gaza.

The war on Gaza has now gone on for more than seven months, leading to the deaths of more than 35,000 Palestinians, the wounding of nearly 80,000, and the displacement of around two million. Palestinians are suffering from hunger, thirst and the absence of healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed.

The newly displaced people in Gaza are the descendants of those who were forcibly displaced from their hometowns in 1948 – some of whom are still alive, having witnessed the first Nakba only to be displaced once more.

Although not as bad as in Gaza, the conditions in the occupied West Bank, where I live, are also horrific. Every day, I witness Israeli authorities seizing more land in rural areas to build new settlements or expand existing ones.

The Israeli military restricts life for Palestinians by erecting barriers and iron gates to limit movement, while also attacking refugee camps, killing young men, and demolishing homes and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, settlers have become more aggressive and bold in attacking Palestinian fields and villages. Last November, in the village of Deir Istiya, adjacent to my family’s village, settlers attacked farmers harvesting olives, and threw leaflets printed in Arabic threatening a new Nakba unless Palestinians in the area fled to Jordan.

Such attacks take place under the protection of the Israeli army, including the Netzah Yehuda battalion, an all-male ultra-Orthodox military unit against which the US was considering sanctions amid accusations of human rights violations. The US and other European countries have also imposed sanctions on a small number of “violent” settlers – as if the rest of the illegal settlers reside peacefully here, a premise that is demonstrably false.

Demonizing Unrwa
We are marking the Nakba anniversary this year amid Israel’s threat to dismantle the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, which has been subjected to a massive, systematic and unjust Israeli campaign of demonization.

Israel has been actively obstructing Unrwa’s work, preventing it from distributing aid and accusing it of “antisemitism” and “terrorism”. Israel has long viewed Unrwa as a witness and a symbol of the Palestinian dream of return, finding through the war on Gaza an opportunity to dismantle its work.

Indeed, Israel wants to end – once and for all – the issue of Palestinian refugees and the dream of the right of return. Just a few days ago, Israelis set fire to the perimeter of the Unrwa headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem, forcing the facility’s closure.

Palestinians have not forgotten the catastrophe that led to their displacement 76 years ago. Their descendants are living as refugees in camps inside and outside historic Palestine. The new generation of Palestinian refugees are resisting oblivion and surrender. They refuse to be broken, dreaming of return, justice and freedom.

Today, seven months after the people of northern Gaza were displaced to the south, they are being asked to leave Rafah and return to the central regions. It is an arduous journey of torment, the Via Dolorosa of the second Nakba – but this time, there is no safe place, and no means of transportation to take Palestinians out of Rafah as they await their inevitable fate.

We appeal to the world to prevent a new Nakba and save the people of Gaza. The international community can and must act, especially since it is responsible for creating this catastrophe.

We see signs of hope in the protests and chants of university students around the world, who seem to have a better understanding of the bitter realities, and are more eager to reject injustice and persecution. Perhaps they will succeed in preventing a new Nakba, something their predecessors failed to achieve.

-Fareed Taamallah is a Palestinian journalist who lives in Ramallah. He is a farmer and political and environmental activist. His article appeared in the Middle East Eye.

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