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Published on May 14th, 2013 | by Usman Butt
Image © Hanini


Al-Nakba Day: Palestinians Will Never Forgive and Will Never forget

Today, May 14th, Palestinians commemorate the 65th anniversary of Al-Nakba (the catastrophe), which saw 800,000 Palestinians being expelled from what is today Israel. May 14th was the day when British rule ended and fighting for Palestine ‘ officially began’. Israel has already celebrated what it calls ‘independence day’– the difference in days of commemoration/celebration is due to the difference in calendar used, the Palestinians used the western-Gregorian calendar which is solar based- the Israelis use a Hebrew calendar which is lunar based.

Al-Nakba is a day where all Palestinian, whether rich or poor, living in the Diaspora either as refugees or citizens, or in the Occupied territories, or as ‘citizens’ of Israel, come together to remember the shared pain of a nation that never was. A nation that was never allowed to be- but a nation that exists in the minds of the nation’s people. Palestinians were dispossessed of their land but not their memories. For Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, Al-Nakba day is about re-asserting their Arabness and Palestinianess. As well as reminding the world that they still exist and suffer just like those who lived in the Occupied West Bank. Last year, as part of my research for my dissertation, I went with the Palestinians of Israel as they commemorated Al-Nakba.

We arrived at the destroyed village of Le Joun- which is little more than an empty field and some trees today. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of Palestinian-Israelis at this event. Le Joun is typical of many of the ‘de-populated’ villages in 1948- all traces of it’s former self are no more. But on this day, Palestinians dress up in national customs from rural farmers to horsemen and women. Children march around with flags and placards with the names of the destroyed villages, towns and cities- places which are no more. Every Palestinian-Israeli political faction is here- Abnaa-Balaad, Balaad, Balaana, Jabha/Hadash and more.

1.2 million Palestinians have Israeli citizenship- but their presence makes Israeli society uneasy and the rest of the world has forgotten them. Politicians inside the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) refer to them as the ‘demographic threat’ or the ‘fifth column of Arab invaders’. They do not enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israelis do- they do not have the ‘right of return’ as Jews have, they cannot become Prime Minister/ president of the country or judges. Israel gave them citizenship, largely because they were not able to expel them in 1948 and did not know what to do with them. Citizenship was a ‘temporary’ solution (it plays well in the West) until they can figure out a way to permanently remove them.

In 2010– The security forces staged an exercise in which they had to forcefully expel Palestinians from Israel. In the exercise, they had to detain large number of demonstrators- who were angry at being ‘transferred’, and prepare them for transfer to another Arab country.

In negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis have discussed the possibility of population swaps between the two. The population swaps were officially denied-but were revealed with the leaking of ‘The Palestine Papers’.

However in the Arab world, the Palestinians inside Israel are viewed with suspicion as potential ‘collaborators’. In other words- not only do the Israelis not want them but the Arab world might not either. Living inside Israel has exposed the Palestinians to an Israeli education system. Many youths cannot speak pure Arabic and are at times are more comfortable speaking Hebrew. Palestinian organisations that work with them- produce colloquial Arabic dictionaries to help them ‘Arabise’ their language. Although, most Palestinian Israelis understand they are not Israeli- they see themselves as inferior to them. One Palestinian Israeli activist told me “If they buy something which comes with instructions. And the instruction are written in both Hebrew and Arabic- they will read the Hebrew as they think it will be more accurate”.

They also live with the fear of being ‘Israelified’ which means they try to become Israeli but can never be one as they are Arab. Many older Palestinian Israelis walk around the streets and see the country being systematically ‘de-Arabised’ and this creates a trauma for them. To add to the sense of trauma, Haifa-based Palestinians who go up Haifa mountains can see the whole city and further afield. From Stella Maris (on the mountain) they can see an oil refinery, which the British built and use to carry oil from Iraq. They see the old train station which use to have trains to Beirut, Damascus and Cairo. Worst of all they can see into Lebanon, they can see but they cannot go.

Al-Nakba day is not only about commemorating the past- it is about uniting in an ongoing tragedy. It’s about asserting their Arabness and Palestinianess and about resisting the current situation. It’s about reminding the world that they exist and they have not forgotten and will not forgive. Al-Nakba day has helped Palestinians inside Israel fight their feeling of inferiority. Al-Nakba is a day that lives.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.

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