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The Nakba: What Does It Mean In Human Terms?

By Sonja Karkar

16 May, 2011

“Dreams and Nightmares” by Nimer Al Azzeh, Lajee Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, 2009

The Nakba is the Palestinian catastrophe.  It means upheaval, violence and
cataclysmic loss; it describes the terror, which drove almost one million
people out of their homeland, as well as the perpetual terror in exile
–displaced, dispossessed, stateless, lost and forbidden to return; it
remains the multiplying injustice of another people's sin burgeoning in our
collective silence.

For 63 years, the situation has dragged on, men and women holding the papers
and keys to their former homes, clutching the faded and cracked photos of
happier days: everything rendered obsolete by the artificial creation of a
state for a foreign people on land that has been home to Palestinians for

But if that is too distant in time and complex to touch your heart, then
imagine for a moment yourself, wrenched from all that is familiar and
everything you love, hastily running into the unknown grabbing only what you
can carry from all the personal effects and mementos accumulated over years,
but sure that you will soon return, even if it is to pick up the pieces
shattered by war or disaster and to begin again.

Think of yourself going back only to find someone else opening your front
door and shamelessly banging it shut on the pleas you should not have to

Think of your street and neighbourhood, the same and yet not the same, as
everything that once was so familiar is now given over to a people who have
never walked before in the footprints of your forefathers.

Think of the sounds and smells that always make your coming home a moment
filled with pleasure while now they make you shudder at the thought of
others planning around your hearth.

Think of pleading with authorities and institutions which have no interest
in your displacement, but would see you gone forever, pretending you never
existed at all.

Think of yourself waiting the interminable wait while nation builders and
destroyers discuss and negotiate ever-shifting borders and endless
conditions in a process called peace oblivious of your life, dismissed,
despised and rejected.

Think of the eyes of your children and children's children wondering what
you have done and what they have done, to be stripped of dignity, honour and
the most basic of human rights in a world that presumes to value only the
rights of those of their choosing.

Think of what it must be like to be one of the world's most wretched of
surplus humanity for no other reason than that you exist, in spite of what
others have done and do for advantage and plunder.

Think of yourself and wonder if life had been different would you treat
others the same?

Can you now stand by and watch seven million Palestinian refugees feel and
think and act like you and not do anything to stop the 63 years' worth of

Eleven million Palestinians today around the world have not forgotten. Their
collective memory remains undimmed, as each generation carries the Palestinian
loss forward, always in anticipation of resolution.

Eleven million Palestinians stand today as silent testimony to all that
matters in who we are and what we do.  They have not vanished, but have
multiplied and they will keep on multiplying until the last frontier.  
Perhaps, we might yet see that the worth of our being depends on theirs and
that the salvation of their condition will be the salvation of our own.  In
the meantime, their Nakba continues – killings, evictions, transfers,
imprisonment and the daily humiliations of unfettered power and our
miserable silence.

“And who listens to the stories of those men, women and children who are
taken by their displacement to that other shore from which no one ever
returns? Our dead are scattered in every land.

And if the dead by displacement . . . are martyrs, and if the poems are true
and each martyr is a rose, we can claim to have made a garden of the world.”
(Mourid Barghouti “I saw Ramallah” p 161)

Sonja Karkar is  co-founder of the Melbourne advocacy group Australians for Palestine and editor of its news website www.australiansforpalestine.com


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