Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Palestinian Nakba: 67 years, and counting

67 years - day by day - have passed since Palestinians were forcibly evicted out of their homes towards unknown destinations. In no time, they found themselves living under temporary tents which became their permanent shelter for many many years ahead. They became to be known as Palestine refugees, to live in the most inhuman and miserable conditions.

Nakba, known also as the 1st Arab-Israeli War, stands for the  1948 catastrophe surrounding the establishment of the State of Israel, resulting in the dispersion of Palestinians worldwide.

The United Nations General Assembly Partition Plan of  1947 - UNGA Resolution 181 - caused the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, in the wake of the exodus of British Mandate forces from Palestine on May 14, 1948. The Plan granted  the Jews in Palestine just over 56% of the area at a time when they owned less than 7% of the land and constituted approximately one-third of the population. By the end of the War, Israel controlled 77.4% of the land. Palestine was fragmented, occupied and its society dismantled and rendered a nation of displaced refugees. When the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 15, 1948, in Tel-Aviv, there was significantly no mention of borders - the “Jewish State” has never publicly defined the extent of its limits.

After the 1948 War, and by the time of the 1949 cease-fire agreement, Arab areas had shrunk to 23% of Palestine (Gaza Strip and West Bank).  418 Palestinian villages had been depopulated and erased from the map as a result of Israeli military activities, expulsion orders, and the exodus of Palestinian civilians. Only about 120 Arab villages remained within the 1949 cease-fire lines, and these now have no more than 7% of the land, as a result of large-scale seizure and confiscation of Arab land and property. By September 1949, according to United Nations estimates, there were 726,000 Palestinian refugees located outside the armistice lines and 32,0000 inside.

On December 11, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 (III) affirming the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. However, this Resolution has never been implemented.

Following the 1948 War, separate  armistice agreements with the Egyptians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians were signed in Rhodes in the course of 1949, which did not pave the way before any settlement to the conflict. Furthermore, the Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt and came under the administration of an Egyptian governor. Meanwhile, the West Bank was controlled by Jordan which annexed it  in 1950 declaring the two banks of the Jordan River as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remained under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, respectively, until  June 1967 War when Israel conquered the areas, imposing Israeli military  hegemony over Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Subsequently,  a UN agency was established under the name of UNRWA - UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  It was meant to give emergency assistance to Palestinians displaced by the war of 1948 and began to operate in May 1950. Its mandate, to provide essential education, health and relief services to Palestine refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon,  Syria, as well as in the  West Bank and Gaza Strip.

As a result of the ongoing process of the Nakba, Palestinians have become indeed the world's oldest and largest refugee population, and now make up more than 1/4 of the world's total refugees.

Many of the Palestinians fleeing their homes in 1948 left with minimum of luggage in the belief that they would be returning to their homes within days, weeks,  as soon as the violence passed their villages. Now living in overcrowded and underprivileged camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they and their descendants - now entering a 4th generation - are still waiting. Many of them still hold the keys of their pre-1948 homes ..

May 15, 1948, will always be remembered as a black day in the history of Humanity and of the United Nations, unless the continuous Palestinian suffering is brought to an end. No injustice can or should be permanent.

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