Nakba Day

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Nakba Day
Date 15 May
Next time15 May 2019 (2019-05-15)
Related to Yom Ha'atzmaut

Nakba Day (Arabic: يوم النكبة Yawm an-Nakba, meaning "Day of the Catastrophe") is generally commemorated on 15 May, the day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut). For the Palestinians it is an annual day of commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. [1]

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar used in most of the world. It is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. The calendar spaces leap years to make the average year 365.2425 days long, approximating the 365.2422-day tropical year that is determined by the Earth's revolution around the Sun. The rule for leap years is:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the year 2000 is.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence, formally the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, was proclaimed on 14 May 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and soon to be first Prime Minister of Israel. It declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel, which would come into effect on termination of the British Mandate at midnight that day. The event is celebrated annually in Israel with a national holiday Independence Day on 5 Iyar of every year according to the Hebrew calendar.


The day was inaugurated by Yasser Arafat in 1998.

Defining Nakba

During the 1948 Palestine war, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed. [2] [3]

1948 Palestinian exodus The ethnic cleansing of Palestine

The 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as the Nakba, occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs — about half of prewar Palestine's Arab population — fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war. Between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked during the war, while urban Palestine was almost entirely extinguished. The term nakba also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.

Palestinian refugees in 1948 Palestinian refugees.jpg
Palestinian refugees in 1948

These refugees and their descendants number several million people today, divided between Jordan (2 million), Lebanon (427,057), Syria (477,700), the West Bank (788,108) and the Gaza Strip (1.1 million), with at least another quarter of a million internally displaced Palestinians in Israel. [4] The displacement, dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people is known to them as an-Nakba, meaning "catastrophe" or "disaster". [5] [6] [7]

Jordan Arab country in Western Asia

Jordan, officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is an Arab country in Western Asia, on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south and the east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and Israel and Palestine to the west. The Dead Sea is located along its western borders and the country has a small coastline to the Red Sea in its extreme south-west, but is otherwise landlocked. Jordan is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe. The capital, Amman, is Jordan's most populous city as well as the country's economic, political and cultural centre.

Lebanon Country in Western Asia

Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 10,452 km2, it is the smallest recognized sovereign state on the mainland Asian continent.

Syria Country in Western Asia

Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Syrian Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Circassians, Mandeans and Turkemens. Religious groups include Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Isma'ilis, Mandeans, Shiites, Salafis, Yazidis, and Jews. Sunnis make up the largest religious group in Syria.

Prior to its adoption by the Palestinian nationalist movement, the "Year of the Catastrophe" among Arabs referred to 1920, when European colonial powers partitioned the Ottoman Empire into a series of separate states along lines of their own choosing. [8] The term was first used to reference the events of 1948 in the summer of that same year by the Syrian writer Constantine Zureiq in his work Macnā an-Nakba ("The Meaning of the Nakba"; published in English in 1956). [9]

Arabs are a population inhabiting the Arab world. They primarily live in the Arab states in Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and western Indian Ocean islands. They also form a significant diaspora, with Arab communities established around the world.

Initially, the use of the term Nakba among Palestinians was not universal. For example, many years after 1948, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon avoided and even actively resisted using the term, because it lent permanency to a situation they viewed as temporary, and they often insisted on being called "returnees." [10] In the 1950s and 1960s, terms they used to describe the events of 1948 included al-'ightiṣāb ("the rape"), or were more euphemistic, such as al-'aḥdāth ("the events"), al-hijra ("the exodus"), and lammā sharnā wa-tla'nā ("when we blackened our faces and left"). [10] Nakba narratives were avoided by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in the 1970s, in favor of a narrative of revolution and renewal. [10] Interest in the Nakba by organizations representing refugees in Lebanon surged in the 1990s due to the perception that the refugees' right of return might be negotiated away in exchange for Palestinian statehood, and the desire was to send a clear message to the international community that this right was non-negotiable. [10] The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has prompted Palestinians like Mahmoud Darwish to describe the Nakba as "an extended present that promises to continue in the future." [7]

Palestine Liberation Organization Palestinian militant and political organization

The Palestine Liberation Organization is an organization founded in 1964 with the purpose of the "liberation of Palestine" through armed struggle, with much of its violence aimed at Israeli civilians. It is recognized as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" by over 100 states with which it holds diplomatic relations, and has enjoyed observer status at the United Nations since 1974. The PLO was considered by the United States and Israel to be a terrorist organization until the Madrid Conference in 1991. In 1993, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in peace, accepted UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and rejected "violence and terrorism". In response, Israel officially recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. However, the PLO has employed violence in the years since 1993, particularly during the 2000–2005 Second Intifada. On 29 October 2018, the Palestinian Central Council suspended the recognition of Israel and halted security and economic coordination in all its forms with it.

The right of return is a principle in international law which guarantees everyone's right of voluntary return to or re-enter their country of origin or of citizenship. A right of return based on nationality, citizenship or ancestry may be enshrined in a country's constitution or law, and some countries deny a right of return in particular cases or in general.

Israeli–Palestinian conflict military and political struggle between Israel and the Palestinians

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians that began in the mid-20th century. The origins to the conflict can be traced back to Jewish immigration and sectarian conflict in Mandatory Palestine between Jews and Arabs. It has been referred to as the world's "most intractable conflict", with the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip reaching 52 years.


Nakba Day is generally commemorated on 15 May, the day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israel's Independence. In Israel, Nakba Day events have been held by some Arab citizens on Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day), which is celebrated in Israel on the Hebrew calendar date (5 Iyar or shortly before or after). Because of the differences between the Hebrew and the Gregorian calendars, Independence Day and the official 15 May date for Nakba Day usually only coincide every 19 years. [11]

Arab citizens of Israel ethnic group

Arab citizens of Israel, or Arab Israelis, are Israeli citizens who are Arab. Many Arab citizens of Israel self-identify as Palestinian and commonly self-designate themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel or Israeli Palestinians. The traditional vernacular of most Arab citizens, irrespective of religion, is Levantine Arabic, including Lebanese Arabic in the North of Israel, Palestinian dialect of Arabic in Central Israel and Bedouin dialects across the Negev desert; having absorbed much Hebrew loanwords and phrases, the modern dialect of Arab citizens of Israel is defined by some as the Israeli Arabic dialect. Most Arab citizens of Israel are functionally bilingual, their second language being Modern Hebrew. By religious affiliation, most are Muslim, particularly of the Sunni branch of Islam. There is a significant Arab Christian minority from various denominations as well as the Druze, among other religious communities.

Hebrew calendar lunisolar calendar used today predominantly for Jewish religious observances

The Hebrew or Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar used today predominantly for Jewish religious observances. It determines the dates for Jewish holidays and the appropriate public reading of Torah portions, yahrzeits, and daily Psalm readings, among many ceremonial uses. In Israel, it is used for religious purposes, provides a time frame for agriculture and is an official calendar for civil purposes, although the latter usage has been steadily declining in favor of the Gregorian calendar.

Iyar month of the Hebrew calendar

Iyar is the eighth month of the civil year and the second month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. The name is Babylonian in origin. It is a spring month of 29 days. Iyar usually falls in April–June on the Gregorian calendar.


Palestinian girl in a protest on Nakba Day 2010 in Hebron, West Bank. Her sign says "Surely we will return, Palestine." Most of the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank are descendants of people whose families hail from areas that were incorporated into Israel in 1948. The key is a symbol of the houses which Palestinians left as part of the Nakba. Nakba Day 2010 Hebron.JPG
Palestinian girl in a protest on Nakba Day 2010 in Hebron, West Bank. Her sign says "Surely we will return, Palestine." Most of the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank are descendants of people whose families hail from areas that were incorporated into Israel in 1948. The key is a symbol of the houses which Palestinians left as part of the Nakba.

As early as 1949, one year after the establishment of the State of Israel, 15 May was marked in several West Bank cities (under Jordanian rule) by demonstrations, strikes, the raising of black flags, and visits to the graves of people killed during the 1948 war. These events were organized by worker and student associations, cultural and sports clubs, scouts clubs, committees of refugees, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The speakers in these gatherings blamed the Arab governments and the Arab League for failing to "save Palestine", according to author Tamir Sorek. By the late 1950s, 15 May would be known in the Arab world as Palestine Day, mentioned by the media in Arab and Muslim countries as a day of international solidarity with Palestine. [13]

Commemoration of the Nakba by Arab citizens of Israel who are internally displaced persons as a result of the 1948 war has been practiced for decades, but until the early 1990s was relatively weak. Initially, the memory of the catastrophe of 1948 was personal and communal in character and families or members of a given village would use the day to gather at the site of their former villages. [14] Small scale commemorations of the tenth anniversary in the form of silent vigils were held by Arab students at a few schools in Israel in 1958, despite attempts by the Israeli authorities to thwart them. [15] Visits to the sites of former villages became increasingly visible after the events of Land Day in 1976. [14] In the wake up of the failure of the 1991 Madrid Conference to broach the subject of refugees, the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel was founded to organize a March of Return to the site of a different village every year on 15 May so as to place the issue on the Israeli public agenda. [16]

By the early 1990s, annual commemorations of the day by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel held a prominent place in the community's public discourse. [14] [17]

Meron Benvenisti writes that it was "…Israeli Arabs who taught the residents of the territories to commemorate Nakba Day." [18] Palestinians in the occupied territories were called upon to commemorate 15 May as a day of national mourning by the Palestine Liberation Organization's United National Command of the Uprising during the First Intifada in 1988. [19] The day was inaugurated by Yasser Arafat in 1998. [20]

The event is often marked by speeches and rallies by Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, in Palestinian refugee camps in Arab states, and in other places around the world. [21] [22] Protests at times develop into clashes between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. [23] [24] [25] In 2003 and 2004, there were demonstrations in London [26] and New York City. [27] In 2002, Zochrot was established to organize events raising the awareness of the Nakba in Hebrew so as to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to a true reconciliation. The name is the Hebrew feminine plural form of "remember". [14]

On Nakba Day 2011, Palestinians and other Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria marched towards their respective borders, or ceasefire lines and checkpoints in Israeli-occupied territories, to mark the event. [28] At least twelve Palestinians and supporters were killed and hundreds wounded as a result of shootings by the Israeli Army. [29] The Israeli army opened fire after thousands of Syrian protesters tried to forcibly enter the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights resulting in what AFP described as one of the worst incidents of violence there since the 1974 truce accord. [29] The IDF said troops "fired selectively" towards "hundreds of Syrian rioters" injuring an unspecified number in response to them crossing onto the Israeli side. [29] According to the BBC, the 2011 Nakba Day demonstrations were given impetus by the Arab Spring. [30] During the 2012 commemoration, thousands of Palestinian demonstrators protested in cities and towns across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Protesters threw stones at Israeli soldiers guarding checkpoints in East Jerusalem who then fired rubber bullets and tear gas in response. [31]

Objections to commemoration

Nakba Day 2011 in Arroub camp in Hebron Palestine Nakba Day 2011 Arroub.jpg
Nakba Day 2011 in Arroub camp in Hebron Palestine

Shlomo Avineri has criticised observance of Nakba Day on the grounds that a more important issue is the failure to solidify a stronger national movement for Palestinian citizens as a foundation for nation-building. [32] [33] Arab citizens of Israel have also been admonished for observing Nakba Day in light of their higher standard of living when compared to that of Palestinians who reside outside of Israel. [34]

On 23 March 2011, the Knesset approved, by a vote of 37 to 25, [35] a change to the budget, giving the Israeli finance minister the discretion to reduce government funding to any non-governmental organization (NGO) that commemorates the Palestinian Nakba instead of the Israeli Day of Independence. [36] [37] A previous form of the bill, first came under consideration by the Knesset in July 2001 and again in 2006, established the commemoration of the Nakba Day as a criminal offense, subject to 1-year imprisonment and/or a fine of NIS10,000 (∼$2,500). Palestinians argue that the bill imposes restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, curtails equality, and applies conditions that suppress the national consciousness and historical narrative of the Palestinian people. [38]

See also

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  1. David W. Lesch; Benjamin Frankel (2004). History in Dispute: The Middle East since 1945 (Illustrated ed.). St. James Press. p. 102. ISBN   9781558624726. The Palestinian recalled their "Nakba Day", "catastrophe" – the displacement that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel – in 1948.
  2. Morris, Benny (2003). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-00967-7, p. 604.
  3. Khalidi, Walid (Ed.) (1992). All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies. ISBN   0-88728-224-5.
  4. 1 2 Figures given here for the number of Palestinian refugees includes only those registered with UNRWA as June 2010. Internally displaced Palestinians were not registered, among others. Factbox: Palestinian refugee statistics
  5. Mehran Kamrava (2005). The modern Middle East: a political history since the First World War (Illustrated ed.). University of California Press. p. 125. ISBN   9780520241503.
  6. Samih K. Farsoun (2004). Culture and customs of the Palestinians (Illustrated ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 14. ISBN   9780313320514.
  7. 1 2 Derek Gregory (2004). The colonial present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq (Illustrated, reprint ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 86. ISBN   9781577180906.
  8. Antonius, George (1979) [1946], The Arab awakening: the story of the Arab national movement, Putnam, p. 312, The year 1920 has an evil name in Arab annals: it is referred to as the Year of the Catastrophe (cĀm al-Nakba). It saw the first armed risings that occurred in protest against the post-War settlement imposed by the Allies on the Arab countries. In that year, serious outbreaks took place in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq
  9. Rochelle Davis (2010). Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (Illustrated ed.). Stanford University Press. p. 237. ISBN   9780804773133.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Ahmad H. Sa'di; Lila Abu-Lughod (2007). Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the claims of memory (Illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. pp. 253–254. ISBN   9780231135795.
  11. Hertz-Larowitz, Rachel (2003). Arab and Jewish Youth in Israel: Voicing National Injustice on Campus. Journal of Social Issues, 59(1), 51–66.
  12. Shuttleworth, Kate (15 May 2014). "In pictures: Nakba Day protests". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  13. Sorek, Tamir (2015). Palestinian Commemoration in Israel: Calendars, Monuments, and Martyrs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p.67. ISBN   9780804795203.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Nur Masalha (2005). Catastrophe remembered: Palestine, Israel and the internal refugees: essays in memory of Edward W. Said (1935–2003). Zed Books. p. 221. ISBN   9781842776230.
  15. Hillel Cohen (2010). Good Arabs: the Israeli security agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948–1967 (Illustrated ed.). University of California Press. p. 142. ISBN   9780520257672.
  16. Masalha, 2005, p. 216.
  17. In 2006, for example, Azmi Bishara, an Arab member of the Knesset told the Israeli newspaper Maariv : "Independence Day is your holiday, not ours. We mark this as the day of our Nakba, the tragedy that befell the Palestinian nation in 1948." (Maariv article (in Hebrew))
  18. Mêrôn Benveniśtî (2007). Son of the cypresses: memories, reflections, and regrets from a political life. University of California Press. p. 164. ISBN   9780520238251.
  19. Shaul Mishal, Reʼuven Aharoni (1994). Speaking stones: communiqués from the Intifada underground. Syracuse University Press. p. 96. ISBN   9780815626077. May 15, which denotes the nakba, will be a day of national mourning and a general strike; public and private transportation will cease, and all will remain in their houses.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  20. Rubin, Barry and Rubin, Judith Colp (2003). Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-516689-2, p. 187.
  21. "Anger over Palestinian Nakba ban proposal". BBC News. 25 May 2009. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  22. Bowker, Robert (2003). Palestinian Refugees: Mythology, Identity, and the Search for Peace. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN   1-58826-202-2, p. 96.
  23. Analysis: Why Palestinians are angry, BBC News Online, 15 May 2000.
  24. Violence erupts in West Bank, BBC News Online, 15 May 2000.
  25. Israel – Palestinian Violence, National Public Radio, 15 May 2000.
  26. Pro-Palestine rally in London, BBC News Online, 15 May 2003.
  27. Al-Nakba Day Rally in Times Square, 2004.
  28. Gideon Biger (18 May 2011). "Israel was infiltrated, but no real borders were crossed". Haaretz. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  29. 1 2 3 Bloodshed along Israel borders kills 12 on Nakba Day AFP. 15 May 2011.
  30. Israeli forces open fire at Palestinian protesters. BBC News . 15 May 2011.
  31. Thousands of Palestinians mark 'Nakba Day'. BBC News . 15 May 2012.
  32. The real Nakba by Shlomo Avineri, 5 September 2008
  33. cf. Karsh, Efraim (10 June 2011). "Reclaiming a historical truth". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  34. "Time to stop mourning" by Meron Benvenisti
  35. Knesset Approves Nakba Law, by Elad Benari, 23 March 2011
  36. Elia Zureik (2011). Elia Zureik; David Lyon; Yasmeen Abu-Laban (eds.). Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, Territory and Power (Illustrated ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 17. ISBN   9780415588614.
  37. "MK Zahalka: Racist laws target Arab sector" by Roni Sofer, 22 March 2011
  38. Olesker, Ronnie (15 March 2013). "Law-making and the Securitization of the Jewish Identity in Israel". Ethnopolitics. 13 (2): 105–121. doi:10.1080/17449057.2013.773156.