By Dr. Mosheer Amer
On 15 May every year, the Palestinian people all over the world commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba, or “Catastrophe”. The Palestinians mourn and remember the massive expulsion and forcible displacement from their homes, villages and towns by Zionist militias in a systematic drive to create an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine.
In the fourth and final phase of a Zionist programme of ethnic cleansing, known as “Plan D,” almost 457 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed and about 750,000 people – nearly three-quarters of the population – were evicted or fled for their lives.
The immediate consequence of this systematic Zionist military campaign was the disintegration of the Palestinian social, political, economic and cultural fabric, on whose ruins a new entity was planted, alien from its environs culturally, historically, politically and linguistically.
Now the world’s largest and oldest refugee population, Palestinian refugees, numbering more than seven million – a third of them still languish in dozens of refugee camps across the Middle East – remember with pain and bitterness 67 years of dispossession, suffering and the loss of their homeland. According to UN records, about four million of them live under direct Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
In 1986, my parents took my siblings and me on a Nakba journey tracing their first exodus from our original village Beit Daras, which is 32 km northeast of Gaza. As we arrived at the ruined village, my father tearfully recounted the happy story of a place once full of life and love. The village with its bare remains, and the piles of rubble and scorched earth, left an indelible mark on my memory.
That village spectacle encapsulated the story of dispossession and longing for the homeland that is etched in the collective consciousness of every Palestinian.
The colonisation of Palestine meant that violence would have to become an inherent and indispensable feature of the Zionist project, especially in the face of the Palestinians’ unwavering rejection of their land being encroached upon by newly arrived European settlers who were intent on driving them out and claiming an exclusive ownership of the land. In the words of Zionist military leader Moshe Dayan in 1969:
“We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is, a Jewish State here. Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahalal arose in the place of Mahalul, Gevat in the place of Jibta…There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
There has been a concomitant and sinister Israeli attempt at a cultural genocide of the Palestinians by trying to erase from public memory and the history and geography books the Palestinians’ history, cultural heritage, national identity, memory, music, food and connection to the land.
For the past 67 years, Israel has continued to deny Palestinian refugees the right of return to their ancestral homes, in violation of international humanitarian law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and dozens of United Nations resolutions issued since 1948.
The UN mediator for Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte, who was later assassinated by Jewish terrorists in 1948, said at the time: “It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right of return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.”
The war of 1948 remains the root cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Palestinians refuse to relinquish their historical and legal right of return to their homeland, while Israel refuses to acknowledge its moral and political responsibility for this ongoing tragedy. At the same time, Israel has allowed Jews born anywhere in the world the privileged right to return to Israel under the Israeli Law of Return, granting them citizenship upon arrival.
Israel’s advocates around the world have vociferously held that the return of millions of Palestinian refugees would mean a “policide” for the Jewish state. Should that remain the case, then what we have is not the self-serving claim “the only democracy” in the Middle East, but rather a prima facie “ethnocracy”; an Israeli state where ethnic and religious exceptionalism prevails over universal principles of justice and equity.
Sixty-seven years of ongoing Nakba, military occupation and displacement in slum-like refugee camps have pulverised the Palestinians, turning the occupied territories into fragmented cantons encircled by walls and dominated by ever-expanding colonial settlements.
Israel continues its suffocating siege on Gaza and imposes a structure of domination on the West Bank that former US president Jimmy Carter has called a regime of apartheid akin to, if not worse than, that of former white South Africa.
The enormity of the 1948 tragedy and the gross injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people are yet to be officially recognised by the world’s key powers.
The past two decades saw a great deal of failed negotiations, diplomacy and partial solutions because they fell short of reaching a fair and just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem; a problem that will continue to fuel the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination. For there to be a lasting peace, the uncomfortable truths of what has been done to the Palestinians must be acknowledged.
As the Israeli occupation state wades deeply in its wars and racist policies, the Palestinians’ struggle for justice and freedom persists. This struggle has come to symbolise the universal quest for equal rights, for speaking truth to power, and for the primacy of international law and universal human dignity over ethnic and religious exceptionalism, and over a delusional sense of entitlement at the expense of the native population of the land.
– Dr Mosheer Amer is Professor of Discourse Analysis & Linguistics at the English department of the Islamic University of Gaza. (This article was first published in Middle East Eye)