On Nakba Day, we remember the incidents of the systematic destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, towns and residential areas and the forced displacement of their inhabitants 75 years ago. Palestinian and Israeli researchers have documented horrific details of the plans devised and practices committed to achieving this.
There is no doubt that the suffering experienced by the Palestinian people is one of the greatest injustices in modern times. This started with the denial of people’s existence in their homeland, designing unjust colonial policies to control their land and resources, and then practising documented ethnic cleansing against them.
The Nakba and its ongoing repercussions have also driven hundreds of thousands of Palestinians towards Europe. They raise their voices within our civil society, demanding justice and fairness for their people. I would also like to express my gratitude for their contributions to Europe’s well-being and prosperity in various specialisations and businesses, including numerous distinguished doctors, engineers and academics who have made significant marks in their fields.
The Nakba is not a humanitarian crisis or a natural disaster; rather, it is a plotted human-made tragedy with responsibilities that should not be denied, no matter how much time passes. On the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, it would be unfair to overlook Europe’s confirmed, complex and indelible responsibility for this ongoing tragedy inflicted upon the Palestinian people, most of who have been uprooted and displaced from their lands.
We cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences of this tragedy, which generations of Palestinians continue to pay the price, so far. We are well aware that most Palestinians currently live in dismal refugee camps or are scattered across various countries of exile around the world. However, they still cling to their legitimate hope and still retain the keys to their ancestors’ seized homes, generation after generation. The Palestinian people continue to astonish us with their unwavering determination to reclaim their freedom, independence and inalienable rights, including the right to return to their land and homes, as stipulated by international conventions and resolutions.
We must acknowledge that Europe bears both direct and indirect responsibilities for the terrible ordeal that was inflicted on generations of the Palestinian people, as well as depriving them of their basic rights and the opportunity to live freely in their homeland, like other nations. Palestinian people still suffer from repression and persecution in their homeland, in addition to severe discriminatory policies that should not be tolerated in our world. Undoubtedly, turning a blind eye to this contradicts our fundamental and moral commitments and our democratic values as well.
The Nakba commemoration is not a fleeting event; the Palestinian cause remains alive, and its incidents relentlessly continue. We are witnesses, for example, of the targeting of the town of Huwara in the West Bank by a horrifying collective arson campaign carried out by armed settlers which was seen by the entire world. Attempts to uproot Palestinian families from their neighbourhoods and towns continue, as seen in Sheikh Jarrah and Khan Al-Ahmar. Palestinian villages in the Negev, such as Al-Araqib and Umm Al-Hiran, are repeatedly targeted for destruction by Israeli authorities, yet the residents rebuild them every time. Reports submitted by European Union representatives and its member States directly from the field sound the alarm over escalating policies of land confiscation and expulsion of residents from Palestinian villages and towns in the West Bank. All these incidents give the impression that the aftermath of the Nakba has not ceased. On the other hand, over two million people, mostly women and children, languish under chronic collective punishment imposed on the isolated Gaza Strip, almost isolated from the world.
During my visits to Palestine, I witnessed how the Israeli occupation authorities built high separation walls around Palestinian residential centres in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Palestinian lives have been transformed into unbearable daily suffering due to the grim grey walls and the vast number of military checkpoints between their cities and villages, as more Palestinians are killed by Israeli occupation soldiers on almost a daily basis. Successive Israeli governments have established illegal settlements on lands confiscated from Palestinians, despite ongoing international condemnation of these policies.
It is clear that the initial disregard for the Nakba that befell the Palestinian people has encouraged the Israeli occupation authority to persist in its arbitrary policies and compound violations, as witnessed by the entire world today. However, we must warn that denying the Nakba is not only immoral but also implicitly justifies its atrocities. Attempting to justify the Nakba by seeking excuses for it means that there is no guarantee against the repetition of past atrocities in new forms, especially after the rise of explicit racist extremists and advocates of ethnic cleansing to positions within the Israeli government.
The Nakba anniversary reminds us, year after year, that our world still lacks rights and justice, and fairness cannot be achieved merely by granting the Palestinian people their inalienable rights, such as the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent, sovereign State. Firstly, there is an indispensable need to recognise the tragedy inflicted upon these people and the emerged entitlements.
Europe pledges to unwaveringly support the rights and justice in Palestine and to resolutely work, with its partners in the international community, to adopt the necessary policies and positions that ensure the Palestinian people regain their freedom, like other nations. It will vigorously seek to ensure the Palestinian people finally enjoy their right to self-determination, sovereignty, and independence.
Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.