“If the Nakba signifies the expulsion of the Palestinian citizen from his land, and seizing his land by force, then the Nakba began decades before 1948.”
It is this concept that Al Nakba, an Al Jazeera network production set to be screened as part of the Bristol Palestine Film Festival on Tuesday 10 December, explores; that the 1948 catastrophe, which forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes, started centuries ago yet expulsion and colonial conquest are ongoing today.
Split into four parts (the first two will be shown next week) it weaves together archive footage and interviews of Palestinian, Israeli and British historians, academics and eyewitnesses to create a comprehensive account of the Palestinian catastrophe from Napoleon to the 21 century.
The story begins in 1799 when, driven by hostility and a desire to resist British expansion, Napoleon wrote a letter proposing Palestine as a homeland to Jews, under the protection of the French. It read: “Oh Israelites, rise up, this is the moment. France is extending its hand to you with the legacy of Israel. Rush to reclaim your position amongst the peoples of the world.”
Napoleon may not have been successful, but his plan was to be revisited by the British 40 years later. Al Nakba documents Britain’s plan to secure the area of Palestine close to the Suez Canal during World War one and the Sykes-Picot agreement which “opened the way for the establishment of a Jewish state” by dividing the Levant.
It is a shocking insight into the role Britain played in the catastrophe in Palestine. Take, for example, the Palestinian national strike in 1936 against Jewish immigration and Britain’s alliance with the Zionist movement; 190 Palestinians were killed when Britain tried to retaliate. Between 1936 and 1937, over 1,000 Palestinians died.
A disturbing part of the film depicts a propaganda film, which superimposes ‘Land of Israel’ onto a map of Palestine and marks out areas that they have appropriated since 1925. Next, huge black blocks appear to indicate areas they plan to acquire, with the following statement: “The mission for the 25 years to come: 1 million dunums for the Jewish National Fund.”
The film points out that whilst only still, not moving, images of the Palestinian demonstrations can be found, the number of films of the British and Zionists at this time are much greater.
According to the first part of this series, in the first decade of the British mandate in Palestine the number of Zionists almost tripled to over 175,000. As Dr. Mustafa Kabha, researcher says: “Britain wasn’t willing to respond to the national demands of the Palestinians and refused to view the Palestinians as a national identity that deserves rights. They regarded them merely as a group of sects while treating the Jewish Agency as the representative of a national movement.”
Al Jazeera’s Al Nakba series offers an understanding of Palestine’s past and what took place to pave the way for what is ongoing today. 65 years later the catastrophe continues in Palestine with the Prawer Plan currently working its way through the Knesset, designed to relocate thousands of Bedouins, houses being demolished across the occupied territories and millions of refugees still awaiting the right of return.