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Nakba: trauma of the Palestinian exodus 70 years ago

Palestinians commemorate every May 15 the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe”, the 1948 creation of Israel and war surrounding it that forced thousands from their homes to which they still demand the right to return.

More than 760,000 Palestinians either fled or were forced off land claimed by the new state as Israeli forces razed more than 400 towns and villages, the exodus creating huge numbers of refugees spread across the region.

Here is some background.



Demands for a Jewish homeland after the Nazi’s World War II genocide led to the establishment of the state of Israel in part of the former Palestine.

The country formally declared its independence on May 14, 1948, to the joy of Jews but anger of Arab nations which immediately declared war.

Already in late 1947, after a United Nations vote agreed on the sharing out of Palestine, there had been a first wave of Palestinian departures involving mainly public figures fleeing fighting between Jewish militias and Palestinians.

The exodus accelerated after the April 1948 massacre of more than 100 Palestinian villagers at Deir Yassin, near to Jerusalem, by two Jewish paramilitary groups.

The Israeli army went on to expel Palestinians from the areas newly under its control, notably from the central towns of Lod and Ramle and from Galilee in the north.


Right of return

In December 1948 the United Nations adopted Resolution 194 giving Palestinians the right to return.

Refugees “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date,” it said, stipulating that compensation should be handed over to those choosing not to reclaim their property.

But Israel categorically rejects this right, saying that allowing even a fraction of the Palestinian refugees to return would lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

In 1950 it adopted the Absentees Property Law which placed under state guardianship all assets on Israeli territory of Palestinians or Arabs who fled or went to live abroad when Israel was created.

Israel also says that more than 850,000 Jews were forced from Arab countries after its independence.

There are about 12 million Palestinians around the world, according to official Palestinian statistics.

More than 5.5 million are registered as refugees with the United Nations.

palestine journalists

Dreams of home

Seventy years after the exodus, Palestinians still dream of returning, often referring to the village or town from which they hail or even the street in which their family once lived.

These memories are kept alive by Israeli Arabs, the descendants of Palestinians who stayed on their land after 1948 and today have Israeli nationality.

In refugee camps the large, rusty key of a house — which may not still be standing — or rumpled land deeds have become symbols of this dream, passed from generation to generation.

Many of the Palestinians who mark the Nakba anniversary, which regularly leads to deadly clashes between demonstrators and Israeli forces, carry a large key in reference to the houses and lands lost.



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