By Tammy Obeidallah
On May 15, 1948, one day after the British mandate over Palestine ended, the Jewish state of Israel was officially created. That date marked the beginning of a 62-year exile for 750,000 Palestinians, who along with their descendants now comprise the world’s largest refugee population at nearly five million people. Palestinians and people of conscience all around the world commemorate al-Nakba, meaning catastrophe in Arabic. The Palestinian population within what is now Israel—one quarter of which are internally displaced from villages decimated by the Israeli army and Zionist militias—mark al-Nakba by marching through the places where their villages once stood.
The protest marches do not sit well with the establishment in the “Middle East’s Only Democracy.” In 2008 World Likud Chairman Danny Danon called for a ban on the annual Nakba Day procession. He demanded authorities arrest any Arab leader speaking against Israel and its institutions, as well as anyone seen carrying the flag of an enemy state or “terrorist organization.” Danon stated in a press release that the march is “…a deliberate and subversive challenge of the Arab Israeli leadership against the existence of the State of Israel,” elaborating that its purpose was “to oppose and incite against the state.”
The following year, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultranationalist party, Yisrael Beitenu, proposed legislation to ban Nakba commemorations, calling for jail terms of up to three years for any event expressing sorrow for the Palestinian tragedy.
Party spokesman Tal Nahum explained, "The draft law is intended to strengthen unity in the state of Israel and to ban marking Independence Day as a day of mourning," Ironically, Israeli Independence Day celebrations rarely coincide with Nakba demonstrations, as the former is marked in accordance with the Hebrew calendar and can fall in April or May.
Recently, the Israeli parliamentary Law Committee approved a draft law proposal that, if passed by the Knesset, would impose economic sanctions on the organizers of Nakba commemorations. Although the language was softened, discarding the jail term provision, the bill forbids government-supported organizations from spending money on Nakba activities and will levy fines as much as ten times the amount of money spent on such activities.
The mere suggestion of forbidding peaceful memorials to honor Palestinians who were killed or driven out in 1948 is a criminal attempt by the Israeli government to conceal atrocities committed while establishing the Jewish “homeland.” Thankfully, there are eyewitnesses to the slaughter that make such rewriting of history impossible.
In 2002, Dr. Anthony McRoy, lecturer at the Evangelical Theological college of Wales, published an article detailing the Ramleh and Lydda massacres perpetrated by the Haganah and Irgun militia. Beginning on July 13, 1948, the entire population of 70,000 men, women and children were forced to flee their homes. Two American journalists, Keith Wheeler and Kenneth Bilby, reported the carnage. Wheeler of the Chicago Sun Times wrote “practically everything in their way died. Riddled corpses lay by the roadside.” Bilby, writing for the New York Herald Tribune reported seeing “…the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge.”
Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote of the brutal treatment that Palestinians suffered during their forced exodus, relating the testimony of soldiers who partook in the torment. Looting on a massive scale was commonplace, as were rapes. After the population was gone, soldiers who were planning on joining kibbutzim stole mechanical and agricultural equipment. Palestinians were stripped of their valuables and forced to march 20 miles in searing heat to Ramallah; at one point a child fell into a well and drowned. An estimated 350 people died from heat exhaustion and dehydration during trek, although British Arab Legion Commander John Glubb later stated “nobody will ever know how many children died.”
Some Palestinian civilians stayed in Lydda, only to be massacred by Israeli forces. Out of the 426 men, women and children that were murdered, 176 were sheltered in the Dahmash mosque where they had been promised safe haven by the Israelis. It was a matter of Israeli policy to circulate news of what transpired in Ramleh and Lydda, as well as the massacre in the village of Deir Yassin three months prior, in order to demoralize and frighten neighboring Palestinians into fleeing as well.
Today, the people of Lydda and Ramleh and their descendants number around half a million, living mainly in refugee camps around Amman, Jordan and Ramallah; the airport built on the site of the devastation was named after the man who ordered the ethnic cleansing, Ben Gurion. These continuing gross injustices are part of the “ongoing Nakba” as stated by The Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. The organization defines the situation as “…caused by Israel's system of institutionalized racial discrimination which is composed of laws, policies and practices that have resulted in second-class citizen status of Palestinians, more land confiscation, discriminatory development planning, segregation of Palestinian communities, home demolitions and forced evictions, in order to ensure Jewish privilege and domination.”
Indeed the catastrophe does not merely lie in the human tragedy and devastation wielded by depraved bands of terrorists—and condoned by the international community—for the establishment of a Jewish state 62 years ago. The catastrophe is the desperation of life under siege in Gaza, the degradation of life under occupation in the West Bank, the discrimination of life as a Palestinian in what is now Israel and the humiliation of refugee status for those suffering a six-decade exile.
The catastrophe is exacerbated not only by those who celebrate the original crime, but by denying Palestinians the right to mourn the loss of loved ones and homeland. This is by far the most damning evidence that not only is Israel is an oppressive state that routinely violates international humanitarian law, but also an Orwellian state not content to simply eradicate Palestinians from the map, but to obliterate the memory of their existence.
- Tammy Obeidallah contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.