There are many in the Jewish community who view the Nakba as simply a historical fait accomplis. The attitude goes something like this: “Yes, during the creation of the state of Israel, Palestinians were displaced. That’s how nations get created. Today the state of Israel is just a fact – it’s time to get over it.”
The problem with this attitude – beyond the sheer injustice of it – is that the Nakba isn’t actually over. In truth, government-sponsored displacement of Palestinians from their land has been continuing apace for the past 63 years.
One recent example: Ha’aretz recently revealed that Israel used a covert procedure to banish Palestinians from the West Bank by stripping them of their residency rights between 1967 and 1994:
(The) procedure, enforced on Palestinian West Bank residents who traveled abroad, led to the stripping of 140,000 of them of their residency rights. Israel registered these people as NLRs − no longer residents − a special status that does not allow them to return to their homes…
The sweeping denial of residency status from tens of thousands of Palestinians and deporting them from their homeland in this way cannot be anything but an illegitimate demographic policy and a grave violation of international law. It’s a policy whose sole purpose is to thin out the Palestinian population in the territories.
The ongoing Nakba was also evident in news last month of a new military order that will enable the military to summarily deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank:
The order’s vague language will allow army officers to exploit it arbitrarily to carry out mass expulsions, in accordance with military orders which were issued under unclear circumstances. The first candidates for expulsion will be people whose ID cards bear addresses in the Gaza Strip, including children born in the West Bank and Palestinians living in the West Bank who have lost their residency status for various reasons.
Israel’s founders understood full well that the Arab population of Palestine was the most significant barrier to the creation of a Jewish state. At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Palestine was around 4% Jewish and 96% Arab. Although the events of 1948 tipped that scale significantly, it’s common parlance in Israel to view the growing presence of Palestinians as a “demographic threat.” So it’s not difficult at all to understand why Israel continues to institute these kinds of “thinning out” policies.
In a lengthy (but highly recommended) +972 post entitled “Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba,” Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf writes:
The Palestinians won’t forget the Nakba. In many ways, it seems that with each year, the memory is just getting stronger.
It’s an interesting, counter-intuitive phenomenon: one would expect that the the memory of displacement would fade as the event itself recedes into the past and new facts in the ground take hold. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be happening. There are doubtless many explanations for this, but primary among them must be the fact that displacement continues to be the very real experience of succeeding generations of Palestinians.
This fact was very much on my mind as I read news reports that thousands of Palestinian refugees crossed Israel’s borders during Nakba Day demonstrations last Sunday. As I watched scores of unarmed Palestinians willing to face live ammunition as they jumped the border fences, it was clear to me that they weren’t simply commemorating a “long-past” event.
For them, as for Israel, the Nakba isn’t over yet.