The Palestinian Nakba of 1948
It's a day of celebration for Israelis but for Palestinians it's the Nakba, the catastrophe. The foundation of Israel on 14 May 1948 meant hundreds of thousands of them fled or were expelled from their homes.
For Israelis, it's a reason for celebration. But the Palestinians call May 15 the 'Nakba' or catastrophe. Israel's declaration of independence on this day in 1948 marked the beginning of a mass exodus for the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of them fled or were driven out of their homes. On May 15 every year, refugees holding symbolic keys demand their right to return to their long-lost homes.
At the end of the 19th century, Zionists in Europe called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. One of the main leaders of the movement was Theodor Herzl, who outlined his ideas in his book "The Jewish State." Growing numbers of European Jews emigrated to Palestine, not least displaced by growing anti-Semitism, particularly in Nazi Germany.
Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire for a long period. In 1917, Britain occupied Palestine. Five years later, the League of Nations issued an official mandate for British control there, bringing the idea of a 'national homestead' for the Jewish people closer. Britain had already in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 affirmed that it favored the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The influx of immigrants led to recurring tensions between Jews and Arabs and triggered violent clashes - culminating in a nationwide uprising of Palestine's Arab population in 1936. Over the next three years, Jewish settlers and the British mandate powers were increasingly targeted. By 1939, British troops had brutally suppressed the rebellion.
The tense circumstances at the time were fertile ground for militant Zionists and terrorist groups at the beginning of the 1930s. They attacked Arab and British targets during World War II. One object was Jerusalem's King David Hotel, which housed the British Military headquarters. On July 22, 1946, the militant right-wing Zionist group Irgun detonated a bomb in the hotel, killing 91 people.
In 1947, the United Nations passed a resolution recommending Palestine be divided into a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem would become UN-controlled territory. While the Jewish side accepted the idea, Arabs rejected the division, saying it was unjust. Although Jews only made up for a third of the population, they would receive more than half of Palestine lands, Arabs criticized.
Jews and Arabs fought hard for dominance in Palestine. On April 9, 1948, Jewish militia under the leadership of the later Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin attacked the Arab village of Deir Yassin. Over 100 people were killed, most of them civilians. The event has gone down in history as the "Deir Yassin massacre" and fueled tensions leading to the Arab invasion one month later.
The British mandate in Palestine ended on May 14, 1948. On the same day, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel. Three years after the end of the Holocaust, after centuries of discrimination and persecution, the new nation promised the Jewish people independence and security. But just a few hours later, the neighboring Arab countries attacked.
A military coalition of Arab states, together with Palestinian Arab forces, struggled to make an impact against the newly-founded Israeli army. Increasing numbers of immigrants and weapons imports from eastern Europe strengthened Israel's clout. The Arabs - poorly equipped and without any central military leadership - were quickly forced into a defensive position.
The Israelis were able to take control of one Arab town after the next. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes by advancing militia. Several hundred Arab towns were depopulated. A number of agreements were finally reached in 1949 between the Arab armies and Israel which ended the hostilities.
Over 700,000 Palestinians sought refuge in camps, dispersed across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The United Nations urged in vain for the refugees to be allowed to return to their homes. But the refugee problem remained unsolved. Today, there are over four million Palestinian refugees.
Israel legalized the expropriation and confiscation of Palestinian property. Several hundred Arab villages were thereupon razed to the ground, such as Menashiya in Jaffa. The depopulated areas were often given to Jewish immigrants for building new settlements. In Israel's official history books, the 'Nakba' plays no role.