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UN human rights expert on the 63rd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba

16 May 2011

UN human rights expert Richard Falk on the 63th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba

GENEVA – The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Mr. Richard Falk, marks the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophic beginning of the Palestinian tragedy of dispossession and occupation, with the following statement:

“I commemorate Nakba this year dismayed by the killing of demonstrators observing the day in the occupied Palestinian territory and elsewhere in the region.

Since the Nakba on 15 May 1948 Israel has continuously confiscated Palestinian land in order to build illegal settlements and populate them with Israeli citizens. It is astonishing that no one in the international community has stepped forward, after 63 years, to coerce Israel to comply with international law. Israel's legacy of ethnic cleansing persists, and manifests itself in an array of challenges to the security of residency for Palestinians living under occupation.

“The construction of the Wall inside the West Bank results in an additional 12% of land confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes, in flagrant defiance of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.

“This past week seven Palestinian families in the West Bank village of al-Walaja received demolition orders. This is a reminder that the Nakba continues. Israel's pursuit of what it calls ‘facts on the ground’ consistently forces Palestinians to abandon their homes, lands, and lives, creating a reality better understood as virtual annexation.

“This is a particularly notable Nakba anniversary, as it coincides with the release of information confirming that Israel secretly revoked as many as 140,000 residency permits of Palestinians between 1967 and 1994. This is not only another violation of Israel’s obligations as the Occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  It is also a glaring example of several sinister schemes that Israel has employed over the years to rid historic Palestine of its original inhabitants, in order to make space for Israeli citizens.

“The international community needs to take urgent action to compel Israel to end its confiscation and occupation of Palestinian land.”


Gideon Levy: Israeli Jews should mark Nakba Day, too

15 May 2011

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz – 15 May 2011

We must know that under nearly every patch of Jewish National Fund forest rest the ruins that Israel was keen to erase, to ensure that they not serve as evidence of a different heritage

Gideon Levy

Gideon Levy

Were Israel a little more confident of the righteousness of its case, and were its government a little more open, then all schools in Israel, Jewish and Arab alike, would today mark Nakba Day. A few days after the celebrations of our own Independence Day, in which we lauded the bravery and the achievements that we are rightly proud of, we could offer a lesson in citizenship. It would be a different heritage lesson, the kind that includes the story of the other side, the one that is denied and repressed. Not a single hair from our head would be lost were we to do this today. Sixty three years later,with the country established and flourishing, we can now begin telling the entire truth, not only the heroic, convenient part of the story.

On that day it would be possible to tell our pupils that next to us lives a nation for whom our day of joy is their day of disaster, for which we and they are to blame. We could tell the pupils of Israel that in the 1948 war, like in every war, there are also some acts of evil and war crimes. We could tell them about the expulsions and the massacres. Yes, there were massacres: All you have to do is ask the veterans of the war to tell you about the towns that were “cleared” and the villages that were razed, and the thousands of residents who were promised that they would be allowed to return in a few days, a promise that was never kept, and about the poor “infiltrators” who tried to return to their homes and their properties in order to collect remnants of their lives, and were killed or expelled by the IDF.

Not only is it possible to permit the Israeli Palestinians to commemorate the day of their heritage and express their national and personal pain, something that should be self-evident, but also to teach us, the Jews, the other narrative.

It is possible to justify everything Israel did during its War of Independence, and it is also possible to ask difficult questions, but it is, first of all, essential to know – everything.

It is necessary to know that there were 418 villages here that were wiped off the face of the earth, and it should be remembered that there were more than 600,000 natives of this land who fled or were expelled not to return to their homes, and that to this day most of them, they and their offspring, live in terrible conditions, carrying keys to their lost homes. It is possible and necessary to teach our pupils that this glory which is the establishment of Israel also has a dark side. This must be taught so that we can know our history, and so that we can understand the wishes of the Palestinians, even if there is no intention of realizing them. We can call this, “know your enemy,” but to know we must.

We must know that under nearly every patch of Jewish National Fund forest rest the ruins that Israel was keen to erase, to ensure that they not serve as evidence of a different heritage. We can know that under our flourishing Canada Park hide the ruins of three villages which Israel razed after the Six Day War, putting its residents on a bus and expelling them. We can now turn our sights to the ruins of the homes that remained on the sides of the roads, from which we turn away, and remember that once there was life there. We can even put up memorial sites, in the land full of memorials, to commemorate the villages that are no longer there. We can ask how is it that along the coast, between Jaffa and Gaza, there is not a single village.

We must also ask why the mosque in the heart of Moshav Zechariya is surrounded by a fence with the sign, “Danger, unsafe structure.” It is not this holy structure of theirs that is dangerous. We can also ask where do the residents of Zechariya live today, on whose ruins the moshav was built (the answer: the poor Deheisheh refugee camp ). This does not constitute a breach of faith. It is not treachery against the Zionist ideal: it is historical and intellectual honesty, perhaps courageous, but certainly something which the circumstances require.

On the day of this Nakba, it is possible to begin telling the entire truth. If we are so proud of it, why hide it? And if we are embarrassed by it, the time has come to expose it and deal with it. Only on the day that the pupils in Israel also learn about the Nakba, will we know that the earth is no longer burning under our feet and that the Zionist enterprise has been completed.


Palestinian Nakba: Forever a memory
Many Palestinians fled their homes in 1948, taking only their door key with them. It has since become a powerful symbol of refugees' right to return, even though most of the buildings have long since been destroyed - or had Israeli families move in [GALLO/GETTY]

Palestinians around the world are marking the anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe that occurred when the state of Israel was established in 1948.

The scale of the devastation was overwhelming: four in five Palestinian villages inside the borders of the new state were ethnically cleansed, an act of mass dispossession accompanied by atrocities. Around 95 per cent of new Jewish communities built between 1948-1953 were established on the land of expelled, denationalised Palestinians.

Referring to these refugees, Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion famously said that "the old will die and the young will forget". In fact, rather than "forgetting", the Nakba has become one of the central foundations for activism by Palestinians - and their supporters - around the world.

Why is the Nakba such a strong framework of analysis and action? Because rather than being an isolated historical event, it is an ongoing process of dispossession and colonial settlement. Over 60 years ago, actions taken by Israel's military and policies adopted by the legislature were designed to effect the transfer of land from Palestinian to Jewish ownership, removing as many of the former as possible.

Since then, right up to today, this is the same logic at work in Israel's regime over Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Just recently it was revealed that Israel had denied residency rights to 140,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, in what Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz described as a "demographic policy" whose "sole purpose is to thin out the Palestinian population".

One of the mechanisms Israel used to expropriate Palestinian land was the British Mandate-era "Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance". In 2010, the Knesset passed an amendment to this law that "confirms state ownership of land confiscated under this law, even where it has not been used to serve the original confiscation purpose". The Nakba is not finished.

The Nakba continues as Bedouin Palestinian citizens watch their homes demolished to make way for Jewish settlement and forests, and as Palestinians are kept off 77.5 per cent of the Jordan Valley, part of what Human Rights Watch has called a "a two-tier system for the two populations". This continuation of policies informed by the "spirit" of 1948 (in the words of Gideon Levy) is how Palestinians understand what is happening to a fragmented population, from al-Arakib to the hills of the West Bank.

A Nakba-shaped analysis is a corrective to the discourse promoted through the official peace process, a framework of "negotiations" between "two parties" over a territorial "conflict". Liberal Zionists too, ignore the Nakba - beyond patronising displays of "empathy"; they need the Green Line of 1967 "so as to render all that lies beyond it as temporary conquest", exempting them from having to confront "the historic legacy" of the ethnic cleansing in 1948.

The centrality of 1948 is being embraced as part of a language and mode of resistance by Palestinians around the world. The fight of Palestinian citizens of Israel as a discriminated, segregated minority has evolved over the years - from emphasising "rights" to challenging the very legitimacy of a Jewish state. The BDS call, endorsed and driven by Palestinians under military occupation, aims to bring an end to the injustices that began with the Nakba.

This is what makes the Israeli government, and its apologists, so nervous: they know that 63 years on, contrary to Ben-Gurion's prediction, not only have subsequent generations of Palestinians remembered the Nakba, but their ongoing struggle for justice and equality is now understood and supported by growing numbers around the world.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer, specialising in Palestine and Israel. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide, was published by Pluto Press in 2009, receiving praise from the likes of Desmond Tutu, Nur Masalha and Ghada Karmi.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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