Context: Nakba — "The Catastrophe"

Nakba means “the Catastrophe.” It refers to the Palestinians’ dispossession from their homes, lands, and livelihoods as a result of Israeli ethnic cleansing during the Arab-Israeli War between November 1947 and July 1949 when half the Arab population of Palestine—more than 700,000 people—were forced to flee or were expelled.

Muslim and Christian Palestinians commemorate the Nakba on May 15. In 1948, this day marked the end of the British Mandate (1922–1948) and the beginning of Israel as an independent Jewish State.

History of the Nakba

In 1947, Jews owned almost six percent of the land in Palestine. That same year, the UN Special Commission on Palestine recommended that the country be divided into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, placing Jerusalem and Bethlehem under international control. A majority of the land was earmarked for a Jewish State at a time when Jews made up a third of the overall population of Palestine and owned less than six percent of the land. The Zionist leadership agreed. The Arab League and Palestinian leadership did not. The proposal for partition passed the UN General Assembly with both US and USSR support. Britain abstained.

David Ben-Gurion, leader of the Zionist movement from the mid-1920s, and his inner-circle known as the Consultancy, adopted “Plan Dalet,” which several Israeli historians have regarded as a blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of that part of Palestine allocated to be a Jewish State by the UN Partition Plan. Around the time of the UN Partition and prior to Israeli independence, the Arab League established the Arab Liberation Army, volunteers who would fight against Jewish military forces, including the soldiers of the Hagana and extremist militias like the Irgun and Stern Gang that had for years been conducting terrorist attacks aimed at forcing the British to abandon their Mandate and leave Palestine. 

During the fighting, the Jewish military perpetrated massacres, rapes, and other acts of violence—including the complete destruction of hundreds of villages—against indigenous Palestinians. By the end of the Arab-Israeli war, over 6,000 Jews and between 8,000–15,000 Arabs, military and civilian, had lost their lives.

As a result, Israel controlled 78 percent of Palestine, 25 percent more than the UN partition plan. No Palestinian state was established on the remaining 22 percent. Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, while Jordan controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

While Israelis celebrate May 15 as the birth of Israel, it is illegal in Israel to commemorate the Nakba.  

The “ongoing Nakba” refers to the relentless process by which Israel confiscates Palestinian land and water resources for its own use, and displaces Palestinians.  

See Also

See The Nakba Files: The Nakba, the Law, and What Lies in Between. See also iNakba App, a trilingual mobile app (Arabic, Hebrew, and English) based on GPS navigation technology that allows users to locate and learn about Palestinian localities destroyed since 1948, during, and as a result of, the Nakba.