May 21, 2023

Seventy-Five Years of Nakba

R Arun Kumar

IT is 75 years of Nakba. Nakba in Arabic means catastrophe. The ‘catastrophe’ is used to describe the forceful eviction of nearly 7,50,000 Palestinians (from a population of 1.9 million) from their homeland, after the formation of Israel. Every year since 1948, May 15 is commemorated as the day of Nakba.

The State of Israel was formed on November 29, 1947, through UN Resolution 181(II) adopted in the UN General Assembly that recommended the plan to partition Palestine into an Arab State, a Jewish State and the City of Jerusalem. This proposal was resented by the Palestinians even at that time, while the Zionists welcomed the decision as they were allotted 58 per cent of the land. Despite this favourable allocation, Israel did not rest and started its expansionist policies since day one. It fought many wars and occupied territories.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the UN organised event to mark the 75th anniversary stated that Nakba “did not start in 1948 and it did not stop after that date”. This is indeed a true depiction of what had happened and is still happening to the Palestinians in their homeland. In order to understand the true import of these words stated by President Abbas, we need to go a little deeper into history.


Explaining the reasons behind Israeli occupation, Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel writes: “The territorial restructuring of the land has centred around all-encompassing and expansionist Judaisation (de-Arabisation) program adopted by the nascent Israeli state...The Judaisation program was premised on a hegemonic myth cultivated since the rise of Zionism that the land belongs solely to the Jewish people”. Rewriting history on the basis of myths to establish the 'sole' territorial ownership of the Jews on the lands of Palestine, especially Jerusalem is contested by the archaeological findings. Incidentally these findings are reported by reputed Israeli archaeologists.

Professor Zeev Herzog of Tel Aviv University reviewing the archaeological findings carried out in the entire last century and a half wrote in Haaretz magazine: “The Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the twelve tribes of Israel. Even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom”. In spite of such conclusive evidence, he says Israeli State is cold to these facts because, “Any attempt to question the reliability of the Biblical descriptions is perceived as an attempt to undermine 'our historical right to the land' and is shattering the myth of the nation that is renewing the ancient kingdom of Israel...The blow to the mythical foundations of the Israeli identity is apparently too threatening and it is more convenient to turn a blind eye”.

More recent facts point that the first Jewish settlement was built in the second half of the 19th century and at that time, the Jews consisted less than 3 per cent of the population, while the Palestinian Arabs constituted 97 per cent of the population.

It is during the First World War that Britain and France entered into the infamous Sykes–Picot Agreement that defined the proposed spheres of influence and control in West Asia. The Russian tsarist government was also a party to the Sykes–Picot agreement, but after 1917, the Bolshevik government led by Lenin had exposed the agreement and its imperial designs. This was done weeks after the notorious Balfour declaration which stated: “His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object...”

Thus it is clear all through that it was colonial interests that drove the division of territories, without the slightest consideration of the opinions or the plight of the people inhabiting those territories. Present genocide of Palestinians is the fruit of the seeds sown hundred and more years ago.

During the 1930s, with the growth of Nazis and anti-Semitic persecution, migration of Jews away from Europe had started in a big way. Some of the migrants also reached the Palestinian lands and started settling there. The local Arabs wanted the number of migrants to their lands limited, but could not succeed.

After the UN Resolution in 1947 that partitioned Palestine, Ben Gurion, the leader of Zionists formally declared the formation of Israeli State on May 15, 1948. That started the process of occupation of Palestinian lands and the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. Nearly 531 Palestinian villages were destroyed and more than 15,000 Palestinians were killed between 1947 and 1949. Nearly 60 per cent of the Palestinians are living today as refugees.

Since that day, not a year goes by without hundreds of Palestinians losing their lands and lives in the hands of Israeli armed forces and Zionist right-wing extremists. This year itself, between January and the first week of May, 170 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military. The 58 per cent land that was partitioned and allocated to Israel now has become more than 85 per cent. The Zionist plan is to completely expel Palestinians and takeover the entire territory for themselves.

Abbas is hence true to say that Nakba did not stop even today. Abbas had stated that there are over 1000 resolutions passed by the UN in support of the Palestinians, but none of them are implemented. “Israel the occupying power continues its occupation and its aggression against the Palestinian people and continues to deny this Nakba and rejects international resolutions regarding the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland”.

Since 1948, Palestinians have demanded their right to return to the homes and lands from which they were expelled. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adapted by all the countries in the UN states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”. This basic declaration is violated by Israel. Nakba is a traumatic experience for the Palestinians, it is the destruction of Palestinian society and severance of links with their homeland.

In 1998, Palestinians marked 50 years of Nakba with commemorative events. That year, Yasser Arafat, the then president of the Palestinian Authority officially declared May 15 as  Nakba Day. On the eve of the 70th Nakba commemoration, five years ago, the Israeli occupying forces killed 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip. For two years, every Friday, Palestinians organised demonstrations, the Great Return March, asserting their right to return to their homelands. Israel repressed these demonstrations with lethal force. The Israeli State violence against Palestine has only increased with the return to power at the end of 2022 of Benjamin Netanyahu in an alliance with extremist religious-nationalist Israeli factions and ultra-nationalist politicians.

It is in this background that the UN had for the first time in its history passed a resolution to officially mark May 15 as Nakba day. When the Resolution was put to vote in December 2022, 90 countries voted for it, 30 against it and 47 abstained. Once again another Resolution was adopted calling for a “halt to all settlement activities, land confiscation and home demolitions, for the release of prisoners and for an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions”. Also a resolution calling Israel to rescind its control over the occupied region of the Golan Heights was also adopted.

On May 15, Nakba commemorative events were organised in the UN through music, photos, videos, and personal testimonies. During the event, a number of videos were played that highlighted the suffering of Palestinian refugees, as survivors described how residents of their villages were massacred by the Israeli army. In one video, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe accused Israeli leaders of ethnically cleansing Palestinians and stated “From the mid-1930s…the Zionist’s political and military leadership contemplated and planned the mass expulsion of Palestinians to demographically engineer a democratic Jewish State”.


On such an important occasion that was observed in the UN, the stand taken by the Indian government brought a blot to our reputation. According to the Jerusalem Post, India is one of the 45 countries that boycotted this commemoration. India stood in the ‘august company’ of Israel, US, UK, Germany, Ukraine and such other countries. The stance taken by the Indian government speaks volumes about its foreign policy.

The present government because of its strategic alliance with the US and Israel, is moving in tandem with both these countries. It is part of the I2U2 alliance (India, Israel, US, UAE) in West Asia. It has entered into deep military and defence ties with Israel and US. The Indian government is also accused of buying military grade modern snooping technology to spy on human rights activists, opposition politicians and journalists.

More than anything else, the ruling party in our country shares a close ideological affinity with the ruling parties in Israel. Hindutva and Zionism are natural allies in their mutual hatred of Muslims and admiration for authoritarian rule. A reflection of these tendencies can be found in the way minorities are persecuted, history is distorted, democratic rights are trampled and independent institutions of State like judiciary are attacked, to ensure the realisation of their ideological project.

People of Israel are in a sustained fight against the authoritarian rule in their country and for the protection of the independence of judiciary. There are elements in that struggle who are using this democratic struggle to highlight the atrocities committed by the Israeli State on Palestinians. The Communist Party of Israel is one among such forces. For this reason, its central committee office was attacked by Israeli armed forces and the Palestinian flag flying over the office was brought down. It is to be remembered here that using the word Nakba or displaying a Palestinian flag are designated as acts of terrorism in Israel. Standing up against such a repression and attack, within minutes, cadre of the Communist Party of Israel gathered and in the presence of the military, once again hoisted the Palestinian flag and signaled their defiance and reiterated their solidarity with the Palestinians.

The struggle carried out by the Palestinians in spite of such brutal repression is a source of inspiration. This struggle needs to be strengthened by expressing our solidarity with them.