The Nakba: In The Words of Palestinians

There are so many ways to write about the Nakba – the Palestinian Catastrophe of 1948. One could start with Plan Dalet, the Yishuv’s (Jewish community in Palestine) master plan to expel Palestinian Arabs from within and outside the territory allotted to the Jewish state in the United Nation’s 1947 Partition Plan and its realization in the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries. [1] The massacre at Deir Yassin where the Revisionist Zionist Irgun and Lehi forces killed 107 Palestinian villagers. [2] And the columns of tens of thousands of villagers forced out of Lydda and Ramla – hundreds collapsing to their death – on the orders of future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who proclaimed “the inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.” [3] Israel’s post-war razing of over 400 villages and its establishment of forests over the ruins. In the aftermath of the Nakba, one could point to the renaming in Hebrew of over 100 villages – emptied of their Palestinians, and houses and lands handed over to Jewish settlers – along with thousands of hills, valleys and natural landmarks. “We are obliged to remove the Arabic names for reasons of state,” declared Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. [4] The Palestinian village of Ein-Ghazaleh became the Israeli Ein-Ayala. Jaffa became Yafo. Bir Seb’a became Be’er Sheva. One could also write about the destruction of the cultural and intellectual life of Palestine as artists, scholars, writers, journalists, and poets were dispersed into the diaspora. In the end, the Nakba was the devastation of an entire nation.

And one could add that the Nakba is not only a historical event, but an unceasing tragedy for the Palestinians. The expulsions and home demolitions may ebb and flow, but they continue without end. Today’s Israel – confident in its power, cautious of the international media, and eager to project a legal and moral legitimacy – has ditched mass expulsions for the more refined tools of incremental expulsions, land confiscations and house demolitions; always with a veneer of legality: ‘the construction lacked a permit,’ ‘a settler road is necessary,’ ‘simply a zoning matter,’ ‘we’re building a public park that will benefit Palestinians too,’ ‘we’ll give them better homes elsewhere. . . .’ and on and on. [5] New street signs are also going up: al-Nasrah (Nazareth) is renamed Nasrat and in Jerusalem only the Hebrew Yerushalaim appears. Moreover, Israel still denies refugees and their descendants the United Nations-mandated “right of return” to their ancestral lands. [6]

One could write all this and a thousand and one stories in between. And recited history serves the purpose of a “struggle of people against power,” in the words of the Czech writer Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” But a historian’s gaze, edifying it may be, is incapable of conveying the intensity of an eyewitness account to history’s catastrophes.

The Institute for Palestine Studies has published countless books and articles on every imaginable aspect of the Nakba and its consequences to this day. On this 69th anniversary of the Nakba we have chosen to highlight our archival collection of articles* on the personal experiences of the Nakba. Rather than tracing the arc of history with its attendant figures, facts, and dates; where the individual experience is consumed by the collective narration, these articles remind us that the grand narrative is drawn by countless stories of individual struggle and loss.

An army officer lamenting the fall of Jaffa to the Zionists, “in this way the curtain was rung down on that heroic Arab city.” A Palestinian man, all but a child in 1948, reflecting on the emergence of consciousness that comes with age, “for us it did not begin in 1948. . . . It occurred when the Palestinian . . . asked . . . : who am I.” A Palestinian woman remembering a life of exile in England, “our home soon acquired a reputation for being a home-away-from-home among newly arrived and homesick Palestinians.”

We would also like to announce our Books of the Month: Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948 by Nur Masalha, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948 by Walid Khalidi, and All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 by Walid Khalidi.

*The articles will be available at no charge for the duration of this month, May 2017. You can purchase a subscription for the Journal of Palestine Studies here.

Memoirs, 1948 Part I
Fauzi Al-Qawuqji
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1972), pp. 27-58

Memoirs, 1948 Part II
Fauzi Al-Qawuqji
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 3-33

To be a Palestinian
Fawaz Turki
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Spring, 1974), pp. 3-17

Reflection on Al-Nakba
Mamdouh Nofal, Fawaz Turki, Haidar Abdel Shafi, Inea Bushnaq, Yezid Sayigh, Shafiq al-Hout, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and Musa Budeiri
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 5-35

After the Nakba: An Experience of Exile in England
Ghada Karmi
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Spring, 1999), pp. 52-63

From Seferberlik to the Nakba: A Personal Account of the Life of Zahra al-Ja’uniyya
Adel Manna’
Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 30 (Spring 2007), 59-76.

Recollections of the Nakba through a Teenager’s Eyes
Muhammad Hallaj
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Autumn 2008), pp. 66-73

Catastrophe Overtakes the Palestinians: Memoirs, Part II
Sami Hadawi
Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 59 (Spring 2014), pp. 100-15.

[1] Walid Khalidi, “Plan Dalet: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies 18, no. 1 (1988): 4-33.
[2] Matthew Hogan, “The 1948 Massacre at Deir Yassin Revisited,” The Historian 63, no. 2 (2001): 309-34.
[3] For an account of the ethnic cleansing of Lydda, see Ari Shavit, “Lydda, 1948,” The New Yorker, October 2013.
[4] For an account on Israel’s renaming schemes, see Jonathan Cook, “Israel’s plan to wipe Arabic names off the map,” Electronic Intifada, July 2009.
[5] B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, UNDER THE GUISE OF LEGALITY Israel’s Declarations of State Land in the West Bank, (Israel: B’Tselem, 2012), available from 
[6] Rashid I. Khalidi, “Observations on the Right of Return,” Journal of Palestine Studies 21, no. 2 (1992): 29-40.

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