The 75-year anniversary of the Nakba presents a timely opportunity to review events leading up to the Palestinians’ historic displacement as well as the written and photographic evidence showcasing life before and during this seismic event.
In what can often be a battle of narratives, documents chronicling accurately and without bias how the Palestinians came to be uprooted and made homelessness are more important than ever, yet although they exist, they are little-known and piecemeal.
The efforts of people like Yezid Sayigh, Walid Khalidi, and Elias Sanbar are a testament to the steadfast Palestinian pursuit of presenting an accurate account of the Nakba, devoid of unfounded beliefs or anti-Zionist rhetoric.
The origins of the term
The event they help today’s generation to understand took place 75 years ago this week. Most know it as the Nakba, or the Palestinian ‘Catastrophe’ that befell the Arab population of Palestine in May 1948 as a result of the Arab-Jewish conflict.
The term ‘Nakba’ was coined by Constantine Zureik, a Syrian historian and researcher who taught at the American University of Beirut and who was an early champion and expressor of Arab nationalism.
Nakba (Ar. catastrophe) didn't describe establishment of #Israel or anything Palestinian. Coined by Syrian Christian, Princeton alum, AUB history prof Constantine Zureik in a book in August 1948, Nakba described defeat of 7 Arab armies in their war on Israel. Palestinians... pic.twitter.com/2FABmNpMkj— Hussain Abdul-Hussain (@hahussain) April 25, 2023
Just three months after the catastrophe, he published a book titled ‘The Meaning of Nakba’. This term quickly gained traction and popularity in Arab political discourse and literature to refer to what happened.
The roots of the conflict
In 1887-88, Palestine was home to 600,000 people, with 60,000 Christians and 25,000 Jews. The latter, who were not under Ottoman rule and held foreign nationalities with European protection, chose to focus on prayer and worship, not work or trade.
The first Jewish settlement was established in Palestine in 1878, a decade before the formation of the Zionist movement. By 1914, the number of Jewish settlements had grown to 30, with a total population of 80,000 Jews.