Palestinians mark 76 years of Nakba amid new catastrophe in Gaza

Palestinians on Wednesday will mark the 76th year of their mass expulsion from what is now Israel, an event that is at the core of their national struggle.

But in many ways, that experience pales in comparison to the calamity now unfolding in Gaza.

Palestinians refer to it as the “Nakba,” Arabic for “catastrophe.”

Some 700,000 Palestinians — a majority of the prewar population — fled or were driven from their homes before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that followed Israel’s establishment.

AP ARCHIVENow, many Palestinians fear a repeat of their painful history on an even more cataclysmic scale.

After the war, Israel refused to allow them to return.

Instead, they became a seemingly permanent refugee community that now numbers some 6 million, with most living in slum-like urban refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Now in Gaza, the refugees and their descendants make up around three-quarters of the population.

Israel’s rejection of what Palestinians say is their right to return has been a core grievance in the conflict and was one of the thorniest issues in peace talks that last collapsed 15 years ago.

APAll across Gaza, Palestinians in recent days have been loading up cars and donkey carts or setting out on foot to already overcrowded tent camps as Israel expands its offensive.

Now, many Palestinians fear a repeat of their painful history on an even more cataclysmic scale.

All across Gaza, Palestinians in recent days have been loading up cars and donkey carts or setting out on foot to already overcrowded tent camps as Israel expands its offensive.

The images from several rounds of mass evacuations throughout the seven-month war are strikingly similar to black-and-white photographs from 1948.

AP ARCHIVEThe images from several rounds of mass evacuations throughout the seven-month war are strikingly similar to black-and-white photographs from 1948.

Mustafa al Gazzar, now 81, still recalls his family’s monthslong flight from their village in what is now central Israel to the southern city of Rafah, when he was 5. At one point they were bombed from the air, at another, they dug holes under a tree to sleep in for warmth.

Al Gazzar, now a great-grandfather, was forced to flee again over the weekend, this time to a tent in Muwasi, a barren coastal area where some 450,000 Palestinians live in a squalid camp.

He says the conditions are worse than in 1948, when the UN agency for Palestinian refugees was able to regularly provide food and other essentials.

“My hope in 1948 was to return, but my hope today is to survive,” he said. “I live in such fear,” he added, breaking into tears. “I cannot provide for my children and grandchildren.”

AA“My hope in 1948 was to return, but my hope today is to survive,” a displaced Palestinian says.

Israel’s brutal war on Gaza has killed over 35,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, making it by far the deadliest round of fighting in the history of the conflict.

The war has forced some 1.7 million Palestinians — around three-quarters of the territory’s population — to flee their homes, often multiple times. That is well over twice the number that fled before and during the 1948 war.

The international community is strongly opposed to any mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza — an idea embraced by far-right members of the Israeli government, who refer to it as “voluntary emigration.”

In Gaza, Israel has unleashed one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history, at times dropping 900-kilogram (2,000-pound) bombs on dense, residential areas.

Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to wastelands of rubble and ploughed-up roads, many littered with unexploded bombs.

AAHundreds of Palestinians, including children, migrate from eastern neighbourhoods after Israel warns them with pamphlets to evacuate Rafah.

The World Bank estimates that $18.5 billion in damage has been inflicted on Gaza, roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of the entire Palestinian territories in 2022.

And that was in January, in the early days of Israel’s devastating ground offensives in Khan Younis and before it went into Rafah.

Yara Asi, a Palestinian assistant professor at the University of Central Florida who has done research on the damage to civilian infrastructure in the war, says it’s “extremely difficult” to imagine the kind of international effort that would be necessary to rebuild Gaza.

Even before the war, many Palestinians spoke of an ongoing Nakba, in which Israel gradually forced them out of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories it occupied during the 1967 war that the Palestinians wanted for a future state.

AAPeople fear that if another genuine Nakba occurs, it will be in the form of a gradual departure.

They point to home demolitions, settlement construction and other discriminatory policies that long predate the war, and which major rights groups say amount to “apartheid”.

Asi and others fear that if another genuine Nakba occurs, it will be in the form of a gradual departure.

“It won’t be called forcible displacement in some cases. It will be called emigration, it will be called something else,” Asi said.

“But in essence, it is people who wish to stay, who have done everything in their power to stay for generations in impossible conditions, finally reaching a point where life is just not livable.”

(Source: Agencies)