This week is the time when Palestinians commemorate the events of 1948 which resulted in the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinians then living in Palestine. This massive and deliberate ethnic cleansing carried out by the Jewish armed forces of the newly declared state of Israel remains the single most important event in the recent history of Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their ancestral homes and forced to live as refugees in camps throughout the Middle East. They have ever since been refused the right of return. It is this refusal on the part of the Israelis which turned them into refugees. As a result of this ethnic cleansing Palestinians lost 78% of their country to the new Zionist state of Israel. This is the “Catastrophe” that Palestinians refer to as Al Nakba. Though this Catastrophe took place in 1948 and 1949, the seeds were sown many decades earlier. And sad to say, the British government played an important and dishonourable role in the development of this tragedy. After the First World War the victorious powers were keen to promote self-determination amount the peoples of the defeated Empires in Europe, they were adamantly opposed to extending such democratic values to the peoples of the equally defeated Ottoman Empire. Instead the British and French, under the fig leaf of Mandates from the newly formed League of Nations, were allowed to effective run the remnants of the Ottoman Empire as their own colonies. Palestine fell to British rule and the Mandate included the well known clause in favour of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” What is less well known is that this same clause included the further qualification, “it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The British of course failed miserably in exercising their Mandate responsibilities, though they did their best to favour the Jewish settlers in Palestine. Unwilling to grant democracy to the people of Palestine and unable to militarily control the area, the British did what they are famous for, they walked away and left the problems to the newly formed United Nations. This august body, which was hardly representative of the peoples of the world, decided in its wisdom to partition Palestine and to the surprise and consternation of many, awarded 55% of the land to the Jewish state and only 45% to a Palestinian state. This at the time when Jews only made up less than ⅓ of the population and Jews only owned 7% of the land. Then again it was maybe not so surprising. The UN at the time of the partition only had 56 members. It was also very much a white man’s club. Only four African countries were members and these included Liberia, almost a US dependency and white ruled South Africa. Asia had just 11 members. The majority of the member states came from Latin America, the Caribbean and the victorious European states from the Second World War. Plus of course the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is fascinating to reflect that the part of the world in which Palestine lay – Asia, was the least represented in the then UN. It was also the region that most strongly opposed the partition, with nine of the 11 countries voting against. The votes in favour came almost wholly from Latin America, Europe and the Old White former British Empire. This vote probably reflected a mixture of anti-Arab racism and guilt at the sufferings of Jews in Europe, before and during the Second World War. What is beyond doubt is that the current more representative UN would never have passed such a partition plan.
The Catastrophe of 1948/49 was not alas the end of suffering for Palestinians. Contrary to the image presented in the media of a peace loving nation, Israel seems to be in a constant state of aggressive war. And not just with Palestinians as Egyptians, Lebanese and Syrians can attest. It is though the Palestinians who continue to bear the brunt of Israeli aggression. Not content with the 78% of Palestine which they conquered in 1948/49, Israel in 1967 effective conquered all of Palestine. Though it claims not to an occupation the facts on the ground belie this. East Jerusalem, the Golan and other areas have been illegally incorporated into Israel. While the rest of the West Bank and Gaza remain under tight Israeli military control. Every year more and more Palestinian land is confiscated by the Israelis for Jewish only settlements – illegally it goes without saying. Every year more and more Palestinian homes are destroyed. Palestinians would like nothing better than to commemorate Al Nakba as history. But while Israeli aggression continues and continues with the active support or connivance of the US and alas the UK among others, Al Nakba remains an occasion to raise awareness and campaign for Justice for Palestine. Join in any of the many events being held this week in support of Palestine and in particular the demand from refugees for their Right to Return. There is unlikely to be a long term peace in Israel/Palestine until Israel recognizes its particular culpability in the Catastrophe. Thankfully more and more Israelis are beginning to come to terms with what this means. Though still a small minority, their voices are beginning to be heard. For more on Israeli responses to this year’s Al Nakba events please visit +972 a wonderful web magazine opposed to the occupation.