Remembering The Nakba

“We must expel the Arabs and take their place”
David Ben-Gurion, letter to his son Aron, October 5 1937

“The old will die and the young will forget”
Ben-Gurion’s diary, July 18 1948

The current period is “the second half of 1948”
Ariel Sharon’s description of the Al-Aqsa Intifada

The Port City of Jaffa

I could really have stop writing here and allowed the words of the former Israeli Prime Ministers to speak for themselves – and how candidly they do. In fact, if one were to look through the annals of history, one would discover how remarkably punctuated by frank admissions of Zionist intent it is. Just ten days ago, for example, the Commander of Operation Cast Lead, Major General Yoav Galant, openly said that Gaza was an ‘ideal training ground’ for Israel where new weapons could be tested because it lacked the capacity to inflict any serious damage in retaliation.

But the three epigraphic quotes are more than just immoral gloating. All interlinked, they represent a tripartite process which is incomplete: 1- The plan; 2- The hope; 3- The continuation. I refer, unmistakably, to the intention to diminish the number of Palestinians in historic Palestine, which is undoubtedly what the spectre of 1948 entails for a war criminal like Sharon.

In 1948, Jaffa was the most populous of the Palestinian cities, with over 70,000 inhabitants, as well as the most commercially developed. Whilst researching its history, I encountered tales of hope and tragedy; it being the eve of Yawm al-Nakba (Day of The Catastrophe), it is inevitably the latter I shall briefly rest on here. In spite of the fact that the mayor of Jaffa, Yussuf Haykal, tried to negotiate a peace deal with David Ben-Gurion, and in spite of the fact that even under the UN Partition Plan Jaffa was assigned an Arab-controlled city, the Stern Gang, Irgun and Hagana (the latter of which was the forerunner to the IDF) conspired to terrorise the city and its citizens.

Four days into 1948, a lorry was filled with explosives by the Irgun gang and left in central Jaffa, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds, many of whom were children visiting the Welfare centre of the town hall. In Abu Kabir, a village which had seen clashes between Arabs and Jews increase, the Zionist terrorist gangs blew up 15 Arab houses in a single day during a process of systematic terrorisation. The villages around Abu Kabir were also attacked and occupied by terrorist gangs, leaving Jaffa effectively under siege whilst it was indiscriminately shelled using British weapons which had been looted by the Zionist gangs from warehouses. Armies attacking besieged populations using British weapons has a sorry ring of familiarity to it.

British General David Murray: I saw a scene which I never thought to see in my life. It was the sight of the whole population of Jaffa pouring out on to the road carrying in their hands whatever they could pick up…as fast as their legs could carry them. It was a case of sheer terror. (The Palestinian Catastrophe, p.87)

The Hagana’s Plan Dalet meant that Palestinian villages were to be taken over and subjected to: ‘occupation, and if the Jewish forces encountered resistance, the takeover would be followed by the annihilation of the resisting force; the deportation of the population; and the destruction of the village. If there were no resistance, a defensive force would remain in the village or nearby to make it secure’ (War in Palestine, p. 88). After sustained bombardment, Jaffa was eventually ‘cleansed’ of 97% of its indigenous Arab Palestinian population. Tragically, many of those who attempted to flee by sea in the final days of the catastrophe out of sheer terror and desperation drowned and died.

Similar processes happened across Palestinian villages. But the key point is that these are not merely historical events – they continue today: forced evictions, house demolitions, agricultural destruction, apartheid walls, sailors shot at sea &c. The four words highlighted above which characterised 1948 are just as applicable today: Occupation, Annihilation, Deportation and Destruction The Nakba was not a fixed historical event, static in time that happened and is now over; it is a process of continued exclusion, expulsion and destruction. During Operation Cast Lead alone, over 4,200 homes were demolished; since Israel’s military occupation in 1967 nearly 25,000 homes have been demolished; and all whilst Israel’s illegal colonial expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories continues, standing at over half a million settlers at present. This is what Ariel Sharon meant when he said that 1948 was not over and the second half of it was underway.

Yet from the dust of the rubble of demolished homes the International Solidarity Movement is growing bigger and bigger. Against the grain of Ben-Gurion’s hope that ‘the old will die and the young will forget’, the young are not forgetting at all; in fact, those who had forgotten have been reminded and those who did not know are learning. Whilst we must always remember and commemorate the Nakba, to be conscious of something is not enough. To actually affect change, we must translate remembrance into deeds: we must strive to ensure the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homelands. It is an inalienable human right enshrined in law and affirmed annually. ‘There is no greater sorrow on earth’, wrote the Greek tragedian Euripides, ‘than the loss of one’s native homeland’. The Nakba will be truly over when the Palestinian sorrow is ended, and Arabs and Jews can once more live together in a land they can both call home.

Hesham Zakai


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