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Unending Nakbas

By Eva Bartlett

23 May, 2010
In Gaza

(IPS) – This is the month for Palestinians to remember their Nakba, or “catastrophe”, in which more than 700,000 women, men and children were pushed off their land and rendered homeless refugees by the Zionist attacks before, during and after the founding of Israel in 1948.

Isdud, a farming community to the north of Gaza’s current border, was ethnically cleansed, in the months after the expulsions began in May 1948. It was one of over 530 villages razed and destroyed after the residents were forced out by Zionist attacks.

After three nights of Israeli air bombardment, more than 5,000 Palestinian residents here were forcibly expelled from their houses and land. Most resettled in what are now overcrowded refugee camps in Gaza.

“Most of the houses have been destroyed; the rubble is covered with grasses and thorns,” wrote Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi.

At a Gaza City Nakba commemoration displaying the clothes, agricultural equipment and tools of Palestinian daily life, Mohammed Tooman, 83, wearing the traditional robes of Isdud, spoke of village life and their forced expulsion.

“We were farmers and grew grains, fruits and had orange and palm orchards. Isdud had a large market every week and people from neighbouring towns came to buy from us.

“With every sunrise, I expect to return to my home in Isdud. And as the sun sets, I tell my grandchildren about our home and village, to which they will return.”

Hammad Awadallah, 70, also from Isdud, keeps this call for justice alive. “My right is passed down to my sons and daughters and their children. We will not forget our villages and our history. They are instilled in our memories.”

Since 1948 the United Nations (UN) has reiterated over 130 times its Resolution 194 calling for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. The 1974 UN Resolution 3236 specified “the inalienable right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.”

Roughly another four kilometres east of Isdud, East Sawafir (al Sawafir al Sharqiyya) was ethnically cleansed of its thousand residents on May 18, 1948. The village had a mosque and shared a school with two other villages.

“No village houses remain on the site,” wrote Khalidi. “But some traces of the former village are still present on the surrounding lands.”

Abu Fouad was born in 1930, before East Sawafir was intentionally disappeared. After the forced expulsion from his village, he ended up in the tents which eventually became the tiny, poorly-built, maze-like concrete houses of a Palestinian refugee camp.

“My father was a farmer and had 35 dunums (a dunam is 1,000 square metres) of land, on which he grew wheat and vegetables. We had 50 sheep which I used to herd.”

East Sawafir shared a primary school with two neighbouring villages. “We didn’t go to school after 4th grade because there were no secondary schools in our area,” says Abu Fouad. “We only learned to write our name and studied religion a little, but nothing much more.”

Life was simple as were the houses. “Ours had two rooms,” Abu Fouad says, “but no bathroom: we would bathe outside. Even though we didn’t have money or the conveniences of today, we lived well, people were happy.”

Like most Palestinians, Abu Fouad has relatives spilled around the world from whom he is cut off.

“We have family in Jerusalem, Libya and Hebron. We don’t know them. And I haven’t seen or spoken with one of my brothers since he left for Libya decades ago.”

His wife Umm Fouad comes from the same East Sawafir community. Born in 1948, she was just four months old when her family fled.

“My father was a tailor and grandfather a farmer. He grew cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables. We hand-washed our clothes and cooked food over a fire or a kerosene stove (baboor) and baked bread in the wood oven (taboon).”

Although just an infant at the time of expulsion, Umm Fouad has been told the history of her family’s land and home so much that she has internalised it as her own memory.

“We fled because the Israelis were firing on us. My grandmother couldn’t walk properly, so in the panic we had to leave her there. She must have died in the house. We left walking, carrying only a few possessions as we didn’t have cart or horse. It was days of walking until we reached Gaza.”

And dispossessions continue. Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, says the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD).

“I still come back to the house to work a small piece of my land that is 700 metres from the border. But even then I get shot at by the Israelis,” says Jaber Abu Rjila. His home and poultry farm east of Khan Younis lie just under 500 metres from the border. They were destroyed in a May 2008 Israeli invasion into the farming community. Soon after, the family fled, renting a house to escape the regular Israeli attacks.

On May 18, Israeli soldiers set land near Rjila’s fields on fire, burning the wheat crops of the Abu Tabbash family. The Nakba is not just about memory.


On 21 May 2010, Israeli bulldozers destroyed Jaber Abu Rjila’s remaining chicken farm, killing 150 chickens, 200 pigeons, 60 rabbits, and 5 sheep, and destroying 3 tons of wheat and rye as well as an estimated 10,000 shekels worth of onions, said Rjila. The land in question is over 600 metres from the border fence.

The Israeli bulldozers also destroyed a home roughly 1 km from the border. 14 people lived in the house, including a man who was ready to marry and bring his bride to the home.

interesting facts and quotes:

Founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, in 1895, called for Palestinians to be expelled from their land by land purchase and economic deprivation: “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border.” Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, called for Palestinian expulsion by any means: “We must expel Arabs and take their places…and, if we have to use force-not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places-then we have force at our disposal.”

“Moshe Dayan Israeli Minister of Defense during the 1967 war said, “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. …There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population.” (from Ha’aretz, April 4, 1969)” [SOURCE: IMEU]

“Joseph Massad, associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University in New York, points out that ‘it is crucial to remember that Zionist forces expelled 400,000 Palestinians from their lands before 1948. Many hundreds of thousands more would be expelled in the months and years following, throughout the 1950s, and again since 1967.’” [SOURCE: ELECTRONIC INTIFADA]

“As a result of home demolitions, revocation of residency rights and construction of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian owned-land, at least 57,000 Palestinians have become displaced in the occupied West Bank.” [SOURCE: AL AWDA]

“Internal displacement continues unabated in the OPT today. Thousands have been forcibly displaced in the Jordan Valley as a result of closure, home demolition and eviction orders, and the threat of displacement hangs over those who remain. Similar patterns of forced displacement are found in Israel, where urban development plans for the exclusive benefit of Jewish communities are displacing indigenous Palestinian communities in the Naqab (Negev) and Galilee.” [SOURCE: BADIL]

“Following the Israeli 2008-2009 war on Gaza which destroyed or badly damaged at least 20,000 homes, construction materials continue to be banned entry into Gaza by the Israeli authorities, and those 20,000 families remain homeless.” [SOURCE: FRIENDS OF UNRWA]

“In 1950, Israel enacted the Law of Return, granting any Jew anywhere the right to citizenship as a Jewish national in Israel and (since 1967) also in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) while the 1952 Citizenship Law denationalised the Palestinian refugees.” [SOURCE: BADIL]

“some 30 laws that explicitly discriminate between Jews and non-Jews — another way of referring to the fifth of the Israeli population who are Palestinian and supposedly enjoy full citizenship. There are also many other Israeli laws and administrative practices that lead to an outcome of ethnic-based segregation even if they do not make such discrimination explicit.” [SOURCE: DISSIDENT VOICE]

“Palestinians with Israeli citizenship continue to face tens of racist, discriminatory Israeli laws and live as lesser citizens vulnerable to harassment, arrest and injustices.” [SOURCE: CRAIG MURRAY]


o Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – The 1948 War and the Palestinian Exodus
o Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center – Nakba Tribute
o Palestine-Net – Destroyed Villages (1948)
o Deir Yassin Remembered
o Palestinian Refugees’ Migration Routes During Nakba In 194