UN observes Nakba Day in landmark move - GulfToday

UN observes Nakba Day in landmark move

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Local Palestinians, activists and others participate in a ‘Nakba’ rally in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, in New York City, on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Local Palestinians, activists and others participate in a ‘Nakba’ rally in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn in New York City, on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

For the first time in Israel’s 75-year history, today is being marked by the United Nations as “Nakba Day,” the anniversary of the catastrophe inflicted on the Palestinian people by the establishment of the Jewish state. Nakba Day is being commemorated at UN headquarters in New York by a high-level meeting addressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, statements by senior UN officials and representatives of regional groups. There will also be a commemorative event in the General Assembly hall which will aim to recreate the experience of the nakba through photos, videos, personal testimonies, and live music. The object of these events is to secure recognition of the Palestinian people, their plight and their right to self-determination in their land.

“Nakba Day” was mandated by an Assembly resolution adopted in November 2022 by 101 votes to 17 with 53 abstentions. As usual the US and its acolytes voted against. For Israel and its friends, the Nakba is unmentionable because it reminds world public opinion that Israel was created at the expense of the indigenous people of Palestine. The US, Canada, and Australia have in recent years been forced to recognise that they also have usurped the lands of native peoples, relegated them to “reservations,” and conferred on them “second-class citizenship.” Israel has not been taxed with dealing with its treatment of the Palestinian people.

There are many reasons Israel’s creation has been an enduring catastrophe for Palestinians.

First and foremost, they have been deprived of their homeland. Instead of living at home like most of the other peoples on this planet, nearly half the world’s Palestinians are exiles scattered across this region and the world.

Today the population of the virtual State of Palestine is 5,461,359 while the number of Palestinian citizens of Israel is 1.65 million. Therefore, the total number of Palestinians living in Palestine is 7,111,359. Another 6.5 million Palestinians live in the global diaspora.

Second, since November 2nd, 1917, when British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour penned his infamous letter promising to facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Palestinian homeland, Palestinians have been treated as a people who did not exist. In this epistle the Palestinians, who accounted for 92 per cent of the population at that time, were designated “non-Jewish communities.”

Britain honoured its pledge to promote Jewish colonisation so that by 1947, when the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine between Jews of European stock and native Palestinians, there were 630,000 Jews and 1,324,000 Palestinians in that land. Nevertheless, the partition plan awarded the Jews 55 per cent of the country, including most of the coast and the best farmland, and the Palestinians 45 per cent.

Palestine was to be divided between a “Jewish State” and an “Arab state,” rather than a Palestinian state. Native Palestinians were designated by the generic term “Arabs” with the intention of denying them their millennial connection with the land of Palestine, its geography, history, traditions, and culture. As “Arabs” Palestinians were denied their national identity instead of being identified with their homelands as were Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, and Egyptians.

The 750,000 who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 during Israel’s war of establishment became “Arab refugees” and the 156,000 who remained in the 78 per cent of Palestine conquered by Israel were granted a non-Jewish class of citizenship and labelled “Arab Israelis.” Israel conquered the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine in 1967 and laid claim to the entire territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Over time “Arab refugees” became “Palestinian refugees” and grew to 5.9 million, the majority living in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Third, Palestinians have been denied the right to self-determination and independence granted to most Western colonised peoples since World War II. Following the Israeli-Arab wars of 1948, 1956, 1977, and 1973, the UN General Assembly finally recognised that Palestinians exist as a people and had rights as a people. In 1974 the Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a settlement of the conflict based on the “two-state” solution. This affirmed Palestinian rights, including the “right to self-determination without external interference,” “the right to national independence and sovereignty,” and the “right to return to their homes and property” in line with resolution 194 of December 1948. The Palestinian state was to be established in the 22 per cent of Palestine occupied by Israel in 1967: East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Fourth, Israel has eradicated any possibility of the two-state solution and the last chance for Palestinian self-determination. The signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 appeared to give impetus to the two-state solution but did not halt Israeli colonisation of the areas Palestinians needed for their rump-state. Israel has planted 230,000 Israeli Jews in annexed East Jerusalem, imposed its full control over 60 per cent of the West Bank where half a million Jewish Israelis have settled, and has besieged and blockaded Gaza. Palestinians living in the territories are stateless although they have gained recognition as a distinct people.

Fifth, Israeli has also designed a system of apartheid by which Israelis living illegally in the 1967 occupied territories are governed by Israeli law while Palestinians are living separately in tightly controlled enclaves and subjected to military law. Both apartheid and the transfer by an occupying power of its population into occupied territory are illegal under international law.

Finally, Israel can no longer claim that its Jewish population forms a majority in Palestine. Since the total population of Israel is 9,972,157, of whom 7,106,000 (73.6 per cent) is Jewish, Palestinians outnumber Jewish Israelis by 5,359 persons. This is a small but significant number, and the gap is likely to grow, depriving Israel of its boast that it is a vibrant democracy. It is, instead, a 21st century colonial state living according to the rules and practices adopted by European colonial empires from the 15th-early 20th centuries.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in in the occupied territories Francesca Albanesi stated in the run-up to the anniversary of the Nakba, “Israel is a colonial power maintaining the occupation in order to get as much land as possible for the Jewish-only people.” She argued that “apartheid is a symptom, and a consequence of the territorial ambitions Israel has for the land” that remains to the “encircled” Palestinians.

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