Depending on which side you are on, May 15th can either be a day for celebration or mourning. For Israelis, it is the joyous day when Israel became an independent nation-state. For Palestinians, it means something completely different: Nakba Day. “Nakba,” in Arabic, means “catastrophe”. Understanding this interpretation, and the present-day suffering, is important to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Israel’s independence in 1948 resulted in the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. Although some left by choice, the majority were forcibly expelled. This expulsion was a systematic policy orchestrated by Zionist political and military leaders, called Plan Dalet (or “Plan D”). The policy’s goal was to create a Jewish-only state in territory that belonged to the native Palestinians for thousands of years. Since the Palestinian Arabs were obviously unwilling to give up their land, Israeli militias forced them out. The refugees then fled to neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and other parts of the world, including the United States and Great Britain. This is the catastrophe that Palestinians mourn on Nakba Day.
Unfortunately, the catastrophe has not ended. There have been several wars fought between Israelis and Palestinians. In 1967, Israel, in a six-day war, conquered large amounts of Arab territory and began an illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights (Sinai was given back to Egypt in 1980). More recently, Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008 resulted in the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis, a casualty imbalance that certainly is not new in this fight. In addition to suffering from wars, Palestinian homes are frequently demolished and properties are confiscated to make room for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. For example, Israel’s separation wall, which violates international law, cuts into the Palestinian West Bank which makes it easier for Israelis to colonize Palestinian land. Meanwhile, Palestinians are harassed daily at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers and made to drive longer commutes because of the wall, settlements, and racially-segregated roads. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians suffer under a crippling blockade implemented as a punishment for Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. While the attacks were wrong, the population of Gaza bears little to no responsibility for them. This makes the blockade a form of collective punishment, which is illegal. This is why Nakba Day is still recognized by Palestinians and their sympathizers – the “Nakba” is an ongoing tragedy.
Fortunately, this situation can change. The current Arab uprisings provide hope to those who have longed and struggled for a better Middle East. The toppling of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and overthrowing of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt marks that the winds of freedom are blowing throughout the Arab World. Now those winds have found their way to Israel and the occupied territories. Palestinians have not only been inspired by their comrades these revolutions, but have also been inspired by the nonviolent American civil rights movement because it is a righteous and effective strategy. Both Egypt and Tunisia have proved this.
While uprisings continue throughout the Arab World, the successes in Tunisia and Egypt should give us hope. If a people living under decades of tyranny can successfully overthrow their rulers, then hopefully those who have suffered expulsion, racism, and colonialism can gain their freedom as well.
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