Palestinian and Jewish students alike demonstrated to commemorate the Nakba, meaning “catastrophe,” that ensued following Israel’s creation.
May 15, 1948. It’s a date celebrated by Israelis and mourned by millions of Palestinians. When the state of Israel was founded 65 years ago, roughly 700,000 Palestinians were exiled from their homes to make way for the creation of a Jewish-majority state in the heart of the Levant.
The event is a pivotal moment in Middle East history, simultaneously celebrated by Jewish refugees fleeing Europe after the Holocaust and mourned by Palestinians who were exiled during the founding of Israel. The two counter-narratives remain the focus of explosive debate within Israel and the Palestinian territories.
On Monday, dozens of Arab and left-wing Jewish students came together to demonstrate at Tel Aviv University ahead of Wednesday’s broader worldwide demonstrations, marking what Palestinians call the Nakba or “catastrophe” during the founding of Israel in 1948.
The students demanded that the suffering of the Arabs be recognized by their university, a sign of the shifting dialogue within Jewish-Israeli society that has tended to favor one narrative celebrating Israel’s birth.
“You cannot exclude the term ‘Nakba’ from the Israeli discourse, particularly at the universities, because it is an inseparable part of the country’s history and reality,” said Dan Valfhish, a history student who took part in the Nakba ceremony. “If we want things to change here, we’ll have to recognize the suffering of the other.”
Dozens of right-wing activists from Im Tirtzu (“If you will it”), a right-wing movement, held a counter-protest nearby, with some denying that the Nakba ever took place. “We are here to protest against the lie known as Nakba and against the attempt to tarnish Israel’s name and claim we committed war crimes. This ceremony is a display of hypocrisy. They are welcome to go to Syria,” Lev Slodkin, an Im Tirtzu activist, said.
Much larger demonstrations are expected across Israel and the Palestinian territories Wednesday to mark the event.
Even speaking about the event has become difficult in Israel, where right-wing politicians have tried to stifle historical debate around this issue. Toward that end, the Israeli Knesset passed two bills in 2011 requiring the government fine local authorities and other state-funded bodies that hold events marking the Palestinian Nakba Day.
It’s a decision that critics believe has had a chilling effect on free speech across the country.
Peace activists contend that the historical realities of the Nakba still hold significance today as Israel continues expansion of illegal settlements throughout the West Bank. “I think that understanding the Nakba is critical to working toward change, toward a just and peaceful outcome,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, told Mint Press News.
“There is an ongoing military control over the West Bank. There are closed military zones [Palestinians] can’t access their land, settlers are slowly taking over the land,” Vilkomerson said.
There are now 500,000 Jewish settlers living in settlements throughout the West Bank considered illegal under international law. The Netanyahu government has steadily increased settlement construction, a decision that could spell the end of a two-state solution to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
“What is crucial is to understand that this issue did not start in 1967, it started in 1948. In some ways it is ongoing with waves of refugees in 1967 and later years. Even this year the Israeli government is talking about expulsion of Bedouin from traditional villages,” Vilkomerson said.