Nakba Day

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Nakba Day
Date 15 May
Next time15 May 2020 (2020-05-15)
Related to Yom Ha'atzmaut

Nakba Day (Arabic : يوم النكبةYawm 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 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]

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]

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]

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]


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]


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. nakba loss of palestine.
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  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.
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  11. Hertz-Larowitz, Rachel (2003). Arab and Jewish Youth in Israel: Voicing National Injustice on Campus. Journal of Social Issues, 59(1), 51–66.
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  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. nakba commemorations decades.
  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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
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  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.