Nakba refugees

Palestinian refugee Ebthaj Dawla shows the keys to her family house—which they lost during the Nakba—in her home in Gaza City, Palestine on May 7, 2023.

(Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

75 Years After Nakba, Palestinians Hail 'Historic' UN Commemoration

"This is an occasion to highlight that the noble goals of justice and peace require recognizing the reality and history of the Palestinian people's plight and ensuring the fulfillment of their inalienable rights," explained UNISPAL.

For the first time ever, the United Nations on Monday officially commemorated the Nakba, or "catastrophe," when more than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homeland during a sweeping Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign in service of the establishment of the modern state of Israel 75 years ago.

Events scheduled for Monday include a morning conference at U.N. headquarters in New York City held by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, as well as a special evening commemoration in the General Assembly Hall.

"This is an occasion to highlight that the noble goals of justice and peace, require recognizing the reality and history of the Palestinian people's plight and ensuring the fulfillment of their inalienable rights," the U.N. Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL) said in a statement.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, hailed Monday's "historic" commemoration, noting that the General Assembly in 1947 voted—without consulting Palestinians—to partition Palestine, then a British protectorate. Jews, who comprised just over one-third of Palestine's population at the time, got 55% of its land.

"It's acknowledging the responsibility of the U.N. of not being able to resolve this catastrophe for the Palestinian people for 75 years," he said, adding that "the catastrophe to the Palestinian people is still ongoing."

Gilan Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., called the event "shameful."

"Attending one-sided Palestinian initiatives that falsely brand Israel as the source of all evil does not bring the conflict closer to an end, but only serves to inflame tensions," Erdan said in a letter to other U.N. envoys urging them to boycott the event.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement that Monday's U.N. events "mark an important milestone in international acknowledgment of the plight of the Palestinian people under occupation and their ongoing struggle for justice and freedom."

"Representatives of the United States should participate in these U.N. memorial events to demonstrate a commitment to uphold justice for all people, including Palestinians," he added.

No diplomats from the United States—Israel's main benefactor and often the only nation to vote against most of the world on U.N. resolutions condemning Israeli crimes or affirming Palestinian rights—attended Monday's commemoration.

However, demonstrations took place in the United States, including in Washington, D.C., where Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—the only Palestinian-American in Congress—held a Nakba commemoration last week and where a growing number of congressional Democrats are condemning Israeli apartheid, occupation, settler colonization, ethnic cleansing, and other crimes against Palestinians.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), for example, recently re-introduced the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, which would place conditions on U.S. aid, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) last month led a letter signed by more than a dozen colleagues urging the Biden administration to rethink financial assistance to Israel.

Congress currently authorizes $3.8 billion in annual—and mostly unconditional—aid to Israel.

The Nakba commemorations come as the Israel Defense Forces and the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant resistance group agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Saturday following five days of fighting in which at least 33 Palestinians, including numerous children, were killed.

Palestinians point to Israel's continuing violent repression as evidence that the Nakba continues 75 years after the events of 1948.

That was the year that David Ben-Gurion—who would become Israel's first prime minister—and his inner circle drafted Plan Dalet, a blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine's Arabs, whose lands Jews coveted as they fought to establish the modern state of Israel amid a British withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine prompted by increasing Zionist terrorism.

According to official orders, "the principal objective of the operation is the destruction of Arab villages" and their replacement with Jewish ones. Often, the mere threat of violence was enough to coerce Arabs from their homes, but sometimes appalling slaughter was required to induce flight. In the most infamous of what Israeli historian Benny Morris has identified as 24 Zionist massacres during the Nakba, more than 100 Arab men, women, and children were murdered by Jewish militias at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948.

Jewish ethnic cleansing of Arabs accelerated after the allied Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian, and Syrian armies invaded Palestine in a bid to smother the nascent Israeli state in its cradle. On July 11, 1948, Moshe Dayan—a future Israeli foreign and defense minister—led an assault on Lydda in which over 250 men, women, and children were massacred with automatic weapons, grenades, and cannon. What followed, on future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's orders, was the wholesale expulsion of Arabs from Lydda and Ramle—a war crime known today as the Lydda Death March.

The international community was outraged by these events. In the United States, a group of prominent Jews including Albert Einstein excoriated the "terrorists" who attacked Deir Yassin. Others compared the Jewish militias to their would-be German destroyers, including Aharon Cizling, Israel's first agriculture minister, who lamented that "now Jews have behaved like Nazis."

When it was all over, more than 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed or abandoned, their denizens—some of whom still hold the keys to their stolen homes—have yet to return. Today, they and their descendants number more than 7 million, all of whom have been denied the right of return guaranteed under U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials have gone to great lengths to bury evidence that the Nakba happened while presenting a distorted narrative in which Arabs purportedly consider the "catastrophe" the birth of Israel, not the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

"The thought that an international organization could mark the establishment of one of its member states as a catastrophe or disaster is both appalling and repulsive," Erdan wrote in his letter to fellow U.N. ambassadors.

However, as Monday's U.N. commemorations attest, Palestinians remain committed to keeping the memory of the Nakba alive as an integral part of their freedom struggle. As Ben-Gurion presciently said of the Palestinians back in 1938, "A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily."

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