The Palestinian Nakba that befell its people in 1948 continues today. 65 years ago, thousands of defenceless Palestinians were killed in their homes, hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed, many massacres were committed and the majority of Palestinians were displaced in order to establish the state of Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian state. Until today, we have not heard any admission of responsibility by the Israelis for what occurred, and Israel has not been held accountable for this heinous crime.
The Nakba continues through Israel's illegal actions on the ground, which affect our Palestinian people wherever they are in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel continues their policies of displacement and forced expulsion against our people in Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley south of Hebron. Moreover, more than 1.5 million Palestinians living in Israel still face regular policies of discrimination, while the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are still suffering under an inhumane siege, and millions of refugees are being deprived of the right to return to their homes.
No one told me about the Nakba, but it was a reality I experienced. I was born in the northern city of Safed; the son of a Palestinian breeder and the grandson of the mayor of Beersheba. I grew up in the city of Jaffa, a wonderful city whose people are characterised by the spirit of tolerance and great hospitality to foreigners, including Jews and Armenians – Jaffa was the "Bride of the Sea". I lived near the Al-Ameriya school, very close to the Dajani Hospital, and I used to go with my family to the Hamra Theatre where they held shows by the most famous Egyptian singers and actors. I still remember those beautiful childhood moments when I used to go with my sisters to play on Al-Ajami Beach in Jaffa and play in the courtyard of the historical Clock Tower.
However, my happy childhood quickly came to an end, and my memories of the "Bride of the Sea" faded away when my family was forced to leave after attacks by Jewish gangs. At that time, thousands of Jaffa residents were expelled towards the sea and my parents fled to Egypt like thousands of others who flocked towards the Alexandria coast on little boats to flee the violence. Our home in Jaffa had been occupied by others, and the time of fun and games in the Clock Tower Courtyards was over.
During 1948, Count Bernardotte, who was a representative of the League of Nations at the time, made a statement commenting on the bloody events in which he said: "a crime will be committed against humanity and justice if these innocent victims are deprived of returning to their homes and Jewish immigrants are allowed to pour into Palestine." This statement, which was later translated into UN resolution 194, which strongly supported the return of Palestinian refugees, cost Count Bernardotte his life.
The "innocent victims" Count Bernardotte referred to were not "a group of Bedouins without any national identity", as often promoted by the Jewish people – rather, Palestinians had their own cultural, social, economic and political lives. The Nakba led to the obliteration of one of the most dynamic societies in the Middle East. It was a vital and active society during the first half of the twentieth century that published 161 newspapers and magazines, and produced numerous Palestinian university students scattered around the world, as well as intellectuals such as George Antonius, Khalil al-Sakakini, Matial Mogannam, and Khalil Beidas. In Jerusalem alone, Palestinians had 30 theatre groups and 24 libraries in 1948.
In spite of this historical evidence, Israel continues to deny the Nakba; Why? Because the prevailing Israeli version is based on the myth that Jewish immigrants came to "a land without a people for a people without a land."
The Palestinian community has become a victim of the disappointing international forces that deal with Israel as a state that has been above the law since its establishment. As the world failed to put into practice international law and United Nations resolutions in the case of the rights of Palestinian refugees, it also fails to prevent the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine, which is considered a war crime under international law. Israeli leaders took advantage of this failure to continue their violations against Palestinians.
Despite everything, in 1988 Palestinians made a painful historic concession by recognising Israel on 78 per cent of historic Palestine. The acceptance of two states living side by side in peace and security should not affect internationally recognised Palestinian rights. The international community must take a serious stance and push for the establishment of two sovereign democratic states and equal rights for all its citizens.
We recognised Israel as a state 25 years ago. By demanding the recognition of Israel "as a Jewish state," the Israeli government is seeking to get official approval for its systematic policies of discrimination carried out against Palestinians in Israel, and the acceptance of its continued refusal of the right of return. Anyone believing in the need to achieve a just and comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians must not accept this plan created by those who have chosen settlements and apartheid over justice and peace.
Overcoming the historical injustice that befell the Palestinians starts with Israel admitting its responsibility for the Nakba as a step towards accountability and ultimately peace. This requires Israel to apologise for the Nakba and 65 years of forced expulsion, as well as its racist policies against the Palestinians in Israel, Palestine and the Diaspora. Progressing towards the achievement of historical justice will not harm anyone; on the contrary, it could be a strong foundation to achieve reconciliation between Palatine and Israel.
The author is a former Palestinian negotiator. He is a foreign affairs commissioner for the Palestinian Liberation Movement – Fatah. This article is a translation from the Arabic which appeared in Al Quds Newspaper, 15 May 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.