Comment | Nakba Day: Marking 70 Years of Palestinian dispossession, and resistance

On Tuesday 15th May, Palestinians and solidarity activists around the world will mark Nakba Day. From the Balfour centenary to Israel's violent repression of peaceful protesters in Gaza, the past 12 months have presented acute reminders of the enduring nature of the Palestinian struggle for justice.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Saturday, May 12, 2018 10:18 - 0 Comments

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For the Palestinian people, the past 12 months have presented dispiriting reminders of the enduring nature of their struggle for justice. Last year saw the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which laid the foundations for Palestinian dispossession;  50 years since the start of the ongoing occupation of Gaza, The West Bank and East Jerusalem; and a decade since the imposition of the blockade of Gaza.

Now, in 2018, we mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophic process of ethnic cleansing leading to the establishment of the state of Israel. 750,000 people, including my grandparents, were expelled from their homes and over 500 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed.

Adding more weight to the historical narrative of injustice that defines the Palestinian people’s sense of nationhood is the pressing reality of the continuing Nakba being wrought by Israel every day.

2017 saw the highest level of unlawful settlement building in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords in 1993. Destruction of villages on both sides of the Green Line has continued, clearing way for Jewish-only settlements. The siege on Gaza continues to deprive Palestinians of the basic services required for a decent life, and the UN has declared that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 unless the siege is lifted.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s coalition of right wing groups has brought forward legislation that has further evidenced the widely accepted analysis that Israel is practicing a form of apartheid. The ‘nation-state’ bill, which passed its first reading in the Knesset in March of this year, confirms that Israel is not the state of all its citizens but of the Jewish people only; and entrenches various discriminatory policies including an existing law that allows 43% of Israeli towns to remain Jewish-only, denying access to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, Israel has continued its war on all forms of Palestinian and international civil society resistance. Any group advocating any form of sanction in response to Israel’s many violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws is defined as a threat to Israel’s security. In 2017, Israel passed a law prohibiting entry to individuals and organisations advocating boycott, divestment or sanctions.

Earlier this month, Israel denied entry to Vincent Warren, the Executive Director and Chair of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil rights organisation. Warren later stated that “the abusive treatment I received at Ben Gurion airport ironically illustrates how the state of Israel refuses to respect the political and civil rights of its own citizens, of Palestinians, and of human rights defenders globally.”

This week it was the turn of Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir, to be deported.  Earlier this year, Amnesty International’s launch of a campaign to ban the import of Israeli settlement goods was met with a threat from Israeli officials to financially penalise any Israeli citizen caught giving funding to Amnesty International.

Most horrifically, peaceful protests inside Gaza since March 30 have resulted in the mass shooting of several thousand Palestinians by Israeli snipers stationed on the Israeli side of the border. The bullets were fired from hundreds of metres away at journalists, children, and people in prayer; targeted to maim and kill. To date, over 45 Palestinians have been killed.

These scenes were broadcast across the world via social media. I have been unable to remove one image from my mind; that of a young woman walking in solitary protest towards the border fence while waving a Palestinian flag, only to be felled by a bullet from a sniper.

Since then, Israel has asked the world to pay no heed to the actions of its soldiers, but rather to question the motivations of the protesters. The truth is, these protesters are driven by an obligation to assert their rights in the face of a system of power that would deny them their most basic and fundamental rights on the basis of their ethnicity and national or cultural identity. It is the weight of this history that is addressed so eloquently by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

 “I dream of us no longer being heroes or victims; we want to be ordinary human beings. When a man becomes an ordinary being and pursues his normal activities, he can love his country or hate it, he can emigrate or stay. However, for this to apply there are objective conditions that are not in place. As long as the Palestinian person is deprived of his homeland, he is obliged to be a slave [to] that homeland.”

On Tuesday 15th May, Palestinians and solidarity activists around the world will mark Nakba Day. In Gaza, thousands of protesters will, like that young woman whose moment of death is frozen in my mind, demonstrate at the border fence with the understanding that Israel intends again to meet them with a hail of live ammunition. Israeli forces will do so because the lesson of the last 70 years is that Israel can act with impunity. The world’s failure to respond to the mass shooting and killing of people at the Great Return March over the last six week speaks to this reality. No UN resolution has been passed; no sanctions have been imposed; no independent investigations have been announced.

And yet the last 70 years of Palestinian resistance to occupation, siege, colonisation, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid has told us another story; one manifest in Darwish’s words and in the simple courage of the young Palestinian woman walking calmly towards the border. It is the story of all those who are committed to the belief that peace can only be built on a foundation of respect for the equal rights of all; to stand with others in solidarity and to build a global movement for justice. Not only today, as we mark the Nakba in 1948, but every day until the ongoing Nakba is ended.

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Ben Jamal

Ben Jamal is the Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights.

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