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Palestine's 1948 'catastrophe' is an ongoing daily reality

Nahed Odeh |  11 May 2017


On 15 May, Palestinians and our allies all over the world commemorate the Nakba. In Arabic, Nakba means 'catastrophe', and it refers to the violent displacement of Palestinians that began in 1948. Growing up in Palestine, I know that while the Nakba started in 1948, Palestinians have been living under a continuous Nakba since then. In other words, the Nakba didn't end, it's ongoing.

1948 Palestinian exodusIn 1948, the State of Israel's Declaration of Independence and the ensuing war with the surrounding Arab nations caused the mass displacement of Palestinians. We were forced to leave our lands, homes, and dreams. Many Palestinians kept their house keys and held hopes that the situation would be resolved in a few days, after which they would get to go back.

For me, the Nakba is when a foreign regime determines my and my family's movements on a land we lived on for generations. I experience the Nakba when I see that my husband can't go to his parents' house in Lifta (a Palestinian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem), and when he cannot join me and his children to live in Jerusalem because he and his parents are refugees living in Ramallah.

Palestinians who hold a residency from the Palestinian Authority cannot get East Jerusalem residency, even if they were born and lived in East Jerusalem, such as my husband.

I experience the Nakba when my husband needs permission from the Israeli Authority to join us for a couple of hours; permission that is very difficult to obtain. The Nakba for me is when we participate in the annual commemorative forums to remember the Nakba yet cannot do anything, but carry some slogans and deliver data and denounce the activities the Israeli government exercises daily against Palestinians.

We increasingly become hopeless, while Israel gets stronger and more violent and forceful every day. In 2016 alone, Israeli security forces killed 106 Palestinians, including 31 minors.

The Nakba is when I see Palestinian refugees in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Libya being treated badly, denied a national identity and forbidden from working certain jobs, just because they are refugees.

The Nakba is when I see them being refugees again and again due to wars waged in the Middle East, while the countries that participate in these wars don't welcome them in. The Nakba is when I feel the suffering of Palestinian refugees as they are not allowed to return to Palestine because of the Israeli government's rules.

The Nakba is when I see tears in the eyes of an old man whose hope has diminished over the years, from hope of going back to his house and land, to a hope of being buried in Palestine, to a hope merely for a bunch of sand from Palestine to be included with his burial sand.


"Palestinians from East Jerusalem are in a gray zone: they are neither Israelis nor Palestinians, as they are included in the Israeli system but do not have any political rights."


The Nakba has separated Palestinians into four groups. Those who lived and remained in the occupied territories in 1948 now hold an Israeli citizenship, while those in the West Bank held Jordanian Passports and were considered Jordanians. The Gazans held an Egyptian travel document. Other Palestinian refugees hold travel documents of the country they relocated to. After the 1967 occupation, Palestinians were forced to hold Israeli identity cards and travel documents while they kept their Jordanian and Egyptian IDs. However, Palestinians from East Jerusalem are in a gray zone: they are neither Israelis nor Palestinians, as they are included in the Israeli system but do not have any political rights.

The Nakba signifies displacement, separation, families torn apart. In short, the Nakba is the daily lived experience of Palestinians. Our allies remember it every year on 15 May, but we have never forgotten it.


Nahed Odeh is a lawyer from east Jerusalem/Palestine. She is completing a PhD in constitutional law, proposing a constitutional design for contemporary Palestine.


Nahed Odeh


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Submitted comments

There seems to be no limit to the devastation caused by war, power and greed. I weep with you. Where is justice and compassion in all of this?

Jim Slingsby 13 May 2017

Nahed, this is a grim account of your day-to-day life. Thanks for sharing your troubles and I very much hope for peace and human rights to be achieved between Israel and Palestine. There are many organisations working to this end. I especially commend the efforts of Just Vision and ActiveStills. The conflict has been long and bitter. Israel has changed dramatically since its foundation in 1948 - and many would argue not for the better. The Nakba has, as its counterpoint, 'The Israeli War of Independence'. Now is the time to work for peace.

Pam 13 May 2017

This moving article reminds us of the great inhumanity done to the Palestinian people (Muslims, Christians and Jews) in 1948 and continues until today. Israel was originally founded because of the violence of the Zionist terrorist gangs - Stern, Hagana and Irgun. To their everlasting shame, British and US policy makers chose to turn a blind eye then and now as Israel attempts to occupy more and more Palestinian land. On Nakba Day, people around the world who work for peace, social justice and human rights extend their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Included amongst those people are the "Righteous" Jews who also take a stand for Palestinian human rights. We need to remember that international boycotts of South Africa brought about the downfall of the hated apartheid system in that country. It is important to support the BDS campaign - especially the boycotting of armaments - to tell the Israeli leaders that they cannot continue their crimes against Palestine with impunity. The ME is a major hot spot in the world. We will only have peace there when the human rights and social justice of the Palestinians are respected.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock 13 May 2017

From long acquaintance with the problems of the Middle East it would appear to me that the Palestinians are, to a very great extent, on their own. Certainly, the sabre rattling anti-Israel Arab countries appear to have done very, very little for them. There is a great deal of talk about refugees in progressive magazines such as this but these hardly ever mention the millions of Palestinians who languish stateless in squalid refugee camps all over the Middle East. Perhaps they are too far away and it seems too long ago for these progressives to take them up as a cause. The de facto recognition by the UN of the Palestinians as a sovereign state is certainly a good thing. There are also good people, both in Israel and outside, who are trying to stop the more outrageous actions of the current Israeli government against the Palestinians. Thank you for this sensible and moving article, Nadeh. Hopefully it will wake some people up. A peaceful solution to this problem appears to be difficult, but is not impossible, but will take time and require an enormous amount of honesty and goodwill.

Edward Fido 15 May 2017

I'm intrigued by some of the language in this article: particularly the reference to "a foreign regime" dictating movement on the West Bank (does the author mean the Israeli Government?), and the reference to the universally recognized State of Israel within its 1948 Green Line borders as "occupied territories". Does the use of these two terms mean that Odeh rejects any proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation via a two-state solution? Philip Mendes

philip mendes 15 May 2017

For some background to the whole current 'problem' with North Africa and the 'Middle East' (as we call it) see 'The Poisoned Well: Empire and Its Legacy in the Middle East' (OUP 2017) by Roger Hardy. There is a good review of the book at < http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mec/2016/09/07/book-review-roger-hardys-the-poisoned-well/ >

Ginger Meggs 15 May 2017

Nahed, thanks for this article, my heart was moved as always by the absolute devastation and injustice of what is happening in Palestine and to Palestinians in the various refugee camps and situations. Our world moves from one war to another; to one focus of disaster to another; yet this reminder of the effect of hate and power by the Israelis on the Palestinians and the resistance this evokes ever since 1948 as people lose hope and home challenges us all.

Pat Malone 15 May 2017

Thank you for helping us understand better.

Anne Benjamin 16 May 2017

Nahed, had the Arab states not started the 1948 war there would have been no refugees. You are lucky that a mere 13 km separate you in Jerusalem and your husband in Ramallah. Meanwhile 850,000 Jewish refugees were forced out of Arab lands where they had lived for millennia and have no right to return.

bataween 16 May 2017

I think the treatment of Palestinians has been appalling since 1948. It remains so. Yet no one seems to care a jot about them. Well I do. Generations of Palestinians have lived in the Middle East for centuries. It's a disgrace.

Louw 19 May 2017

Nahed, thankyou for your article about the ongoing daily reality of the Nakba for Palestinian people. I have been to Palestine twice as a humanitarian worker, and have observed the daily lived experience of Palestinians you describe. I cannot understand the cruelty imposed by the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people.

Graham 19 May 2017

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