Last week, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, Palestinians in the country’s south held the annual March of Return, walking to the site of one of hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed between 1947 and 1949. This mass displacement and dispossession, known as the Nakba (catastrophe), is commemorated internationally each May. But in recent years, Israeli authorities have attempted to clamp down on events to mark the Nakba – most notably through a 2011 change to legislation pertaining to budget allocations.
What became known as the Nakba Law introduced a new condition to the criteria for eligibility for state funding, stipulating that funding could be denied if the body in question – such as a Palestinian municipality – marked Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.
In 2012, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition against the Nakba Law, saying that it was too early to assess the impact of the legislation.
“The law is very vague, and does not set clear definitions, including for what constitutes ‘mourning’,” said Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer at Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minority rights, who litigated the unsuccessful petition. The ambiguity of the criteria “creates a huge chilling effect”, with local councils choosing not to sponsor Nakba events so as to avoid the risk of sanctions, Zaher told Al Jazeera.
The Nakba Law is not the only example of recent efforts by the Israeli government to legislate against political activism. The Anti-Boycott Law, passed by the Knesset in 2011 and upheld almost in its entirety by the Supreme Court in 2015, allows for civil lawsuits against those calling for boycotts, including of West Bank settlement products.
Culture Minister Miri Regev, meanwhile, has made clear her wish to deny funding to those deemed “disloyal” to the state. Last week, she declared a new initiative to force state-funded sporting and cultural institutions to fly the Israeli flag. To Zaher, such moves send “a very dangerous political message”.
Meanwhile, this year marked the first time that the March of Return took place in the Negev/Naqab, a decision heavy with political significance. The specific village where it occurred, Wadi Zubala, was destroyed in 1948 and its land given to kibbutzim. Its residents were ultimately forcibly displaced by the Israeli military to Umm al-Hiran – a village that is now also under threat, with the state planning to destroy it and establish a Jewish community in its place.
The “nucleus” of future residents for the new town comes from Eli, a West Bank settlement. According to an Israeli government website, the goal of their relocation is to “build a faithful community dedicated to …contributing meaningfully to the demographic balance, out of a Zionist vision of settlement”.
Holding this year’s March of Return in the Naqab “links it with the ongoing Nakba, a process of displacement that continues to this day”, said Nadim Nashif, the director of Baladna, a youth organisation and one of the groups that supported the march.
“The Naqab is the main area that suffers from home demolitions and oppression on a daily basis,” Nashif told Al Jazeera. The region is also a focal point for efforts to resist, such as the 2013 campaign to stop a government plan to expel tens of thousands of Bedouin Palestinian citizens.
The annual march is organised by the the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel, which was founded in 1995 and represents an estimated 300,000 internally displaced Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The march has garnered support from a number of other political groups and NGOs, including Zochrot, an organisation whose work is focused on educating the Jewish Israeli public about the Nakba, and the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
If the size and strength of the annual march is anything to go by – last week’s march drew several thousand attendees – efforts by the Israeli government to intimidate Palestinian citizens have been effective. But according to Nashif, there has been an increase in recent years in Nakba-focused activism all year round – especially by the younger generation.
In Kafr Birim, a village ethnically cleansed during the Nakba, former residents have set up camp, renovating the local church and holding various community events. In al-Ghabisiyya, as in other villages, young Palestinians have been returning, holding summer camps and discussing what it would look to rebuild their community.
Thus, while the Nakba Law remains a threat to publicly-funded institutions, there are signs of optimism at the grassroots level.
“The quantity of activities that are held annually, and participated in by thousands, reflects a more general growth in Palestinian patriotism and consciousness,” said Maria Zahran, a political activist and online fundraising techmaker at Adalah.
“It is a clear challenge to an Israeli establishment that seeks to restrict our political rights and freedom of speech.”[Source: Al Jazeera]
Israel must recognize its responsibility for the Nakba, the Palestinian tragedy
OPINION by Dr Saeb Erekat
The Palestinian people, the Nakba is a collective tragedy whose wounds have yet to heal 68 years later. What we call the ‘Catastrophe’ is not just the destruction of at least 436 villages or the forced displacement of 70 percent of our people, but of our ethnic cleansing at the hands of a colonialist strategy. For reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel must recognize what it has done to the Palestinian people.
It is time for Israelis to confront reality: when the Zionists came to Palestine, there were another people living here. Over 100 years ago, a Zionist mission was sent to Palestine and their report acknowledged this fact: “The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man.” And this: soon plans to displace Palestine’s population were unveiled. Millions of Palestinians still pay for the colonialist British promise referred to as the Balfour Declaration. No people on earth would have accepted such a clandestine deal, sealing their fate to a foreign power intent on wiping its presence and identity from the land they came from, tilled, and souls returned to.
Unfortunately, Nakba deniers throughout Israeli society continue to use neocolonialist nationalism to rejects the existence of the Palestinian people while redefining traditional constructs of colonialism to justify the systematic Israeli theft of Palestinian land and deprivation of Palestinian human rights.
Palestinians are Arabs who immigrated to Israel. We Jews fended off the attacks by seven Arab armies in self-defense. These declarations deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, continue to justify the atrocities committed against us, and deny Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return. However, if Israel aspires to live in peace in the region, it must face its own archival evidence attesting to the past that ties our two peoples together. Even 68 years after the Nakba, Jews are still the minority in historic Palestine while Palestinian Christians aren’t even recognized by Israel as Palestinian. Israel cannot continue to deny what it has done to the Palestinian people, and it’s time it understood that coexistence means acknowledgment.
Israeli historian Tom Segev described in eloquent, yet raw detail the pillaging of Palestinian homes at the hands of the so-called first Israelis in his well-regarded book 1949: The First Israelis. They found the remnants of Palestinian families forced out of their homes so recently that dust hadn’t yet settled on the letters, photographs, and toys left behind – the memories of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees never allowed to return home simply because they were not Jewish.
When Israelis walk in Jerusalem’s Talbiya or Qatamon, can’t they distinguish the Arab architecture from the imported Western architecture transplanted with their arrival to Palestine? What of the Palestinian family names still etched onto the stone doorways underneath the year in which their homes were built in Mosrara? In Jaffa, where only 4,000 out of 70,000 Palestinians remained and are subsequently confined today in the Ajami neighborhood – did these images not provoke the consciousness of 1930’s ghettos in Eastern Europe? Did the librarians of Hebrew University not think twice when they saw the names of the original owners inscribed in beautiful, curved Arabic script on the inside cover of the thousands of books appropriated so as to swell the university’s world-renowned library collection?
The two-part makeup of the Nakba was borne through the destruction of Palestine and the construction of Israel. It encompasses around 350,000 internally displaced Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is seen through a racist legislative framework which legitimized the theft of Palestinian refugee land as enumerated in the Absentee Property Law.
Despite the courageous work of organizations such as Zochrot and local Palestinian-Israeli committees to preserve the memory of the pre-1948 Palestinian society, the Israeli government is determined to erase any indication of Palestinian identity. During the first Intifada Israel outlawed raising the Palestinian flag, singing historic and patriotic Palestinian songs, and even outlawed education. Today, they are pushing legislation to outlaw the mourning and commemoration of the most tragic day in Palestinian history.
We are often accused by Israeli officials of glorifying Palestinians who committed acts of violence against Israelis. Yet nothing is said about the glorification of Zionist terrorists who terrorized Palestinian communities during the Nakba, the perpetrators of massacres such as Deir Yassin and Tantoura, the assassination of UN mediator Folke Bernadotte, or of those honored for their hand in killing Palestinians by renaming Arab streets and squares in Haifa and Jerusalem with the names of these terrorists. In Jaffa, the only standing home of the Al Manshiya neighborhood, demolished in the 1960s in order to erase the memory of this legendary neighborhood, has been dedicated to a museum to the Irgun, a gang best known for its terrorist attacks and bloody actions against Palestinian civilians, particularly in Jaffa.
Nakba represents profound significance. Nakba means that while the right of return of Palestinians is utterly rejected only because they are not Jews, any Jew of the world can become Israeli citizens on arrival. Nakba means a racist Israeli citizenship law that prevents Palestinian families from being united. Nakba means that millions of Palestinians cannot even visit their homeland. Nakba means that a settler continues to build on occupied land while Palestinians under Israeli military control have their homes demolished.
According to some Israeli historians and many Israeli politicians, the Nakba and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was necessary for the creation of the State of Israel. However, it is time to face the realities of 1948 and its continued projections today. For Palestinians worldwide, the Nakba was not merely a day in history 68 years ago, but an entire system of daily forced subjugation and dispossession culminating in today’s Apartheid regime. Israel and Palestine could live in peace and security, but in order to achieve that goal, we need a process of reconciliation. Israel must recognize the Nakba in order to end this era of loss and injustice.
Dr. Saeb Erekat is Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).