Today, the Nakba is yours
This is not a story about numbers. Granted, numbers are very relevant, but not today. This is about role-play, about imagining yourself in another’s position and then, once realized, demanding justice, accountability and compensation for the unbelievable atrocity that must no longer be ignored.
This is about the Nakba, but this time, it is yours. Imagine that in a matter of days, sometimes hours, your entire world is turned upside down. You no longer have a home, belongings or money, except for whatever you could manage to hastily stuff in your pockets before running for your life. Zionist militias, armed and ready, invade your city or burn down your village and you have nowhere to go, so you flee. You have heard that in neighboring villages and towns, these militias have slaughtered hundreds of people, pillaged their homes and claimed the land as their own. Deir Yassin, where over 100 innocent people were killed, is just one of these documented massacres. This terrifies you to the bone, so you flee, children, house keys, maybe some pictures or personal documents, in tow. You join the leagues of other terrified people who are walking to an unknown future, hoping beyond hope that this nightmare will end in a few short days. Not in your wildest dreams did you imagine that you would never see your home again; that it does not matter if you left your front door unlocked or the clothes still hanging on the clothesline. Someone else, a stranger, will soon have taken your place.
This is just temporary, you convince yourself; this situation is not sustainable, you say, because nobody has the right to take away your home and your property, much less your homeland. If anyone dared, there was a world that believes in justice, rights and humanity that would not allow it. At least that is what you believed then.
But this is not your story and you should be very grateful for that. This is the story of the Palestinian Nakba and it is as real as it gets. According to official UN estimates, at least 750,000 women, men and children, or 75% of the Palestinian population of historical Palestine, were displaced, expelled and ethnically cleansed over the course of a few months, never to return to their homes. Their false hopes of return eventually turned into shattered dreams and a lifetime of exile in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan, or for those exiled closer to the northern border of Palestine, to squalid refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon.
Even the United Nations, upon realizing the magnitude of the Nakba or “catastrophe’ that had occurred, did not believe it would last for 75 years and counting. It created UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, to cope with the fallout of Israel’s creation over the wreckage of what was once Palestine. The agency was meant to provide emergency assistance to Palestinians displaced by the war until a permanent solution could be found. Its mandate has been renewed repeatedly since then for obvious reasons.
For those who were exiled, it is hard to tell when it finally dawned on them that they would never go home. Hope is a double-edged sword because it motivates people to continue to strive for their goals, in this case, the legitimate demand to return to their rightful homes. However, the flip side is the disappointment and desperation that takes over when year after year, this demand is ignored, maligned and pushed back by the powers that be, first and foremost by Israel, the perpetrator and maintainer of the atrocity and secondly, by its powerful global allies, the United States in particular.
The result is that these people, who had productive and meaningful lives just like anyone else, were so cruelly uprooted and dispossessed by no fault of their own and demand nothing more than their legitimate right of return. This is a right enshrined in international law and in particular, UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which clearly states: “Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date...”
These are nice words, ones that by any standard, should be binding. However, for anyone who has languished in the Biqa’a camp in Jordan, the Shati’ camp in the Gaza Strip or the Yarmouk camp in Syria, this resolution is nothing but useless ink on paper. The Palestinians have and never will relinquish their inalienable right of return to their original homes; time has proven that. Still, this is only part of the equation. It falls on the international community to uphold the standards, which it espouses. It has an ethical, legal and moral obligation to ensure that justice is realized for Palestine refugees and that Israel, the creator of this catastrophe, is held accountable for its dark past and crimes against the indigenous people of this land.
Now, think of this story, not from the lens of the Palestinians, a foreign people you may not know much about. Think of this story as if it were your own: it was your house that was stolen, your land that was given to another people, your relatives massacred and displaced and you whose identity and cause have been systematically denied for almost a century. Can you see it?