Denial of the Nakba, Denial of Refugee Return
Israel commemorates its independence day with a series of events celebrating a Jewish ‘homecoming’ to the land and the birth of the Jewish state as achievements of the Zionist dream for ‘Eretz Israel’ (all of Mandate Palestine). As Israel celebrates, it entirely disavows any responsibility for the destruction of the homeland of the Palestinian people and their forced displacement – what Palestinians call the ‘Nakba’ or ‘Catastrophe’. Early Zionist leader Israel Zangwill spoke of “a people without land returning to a land without people.”
This denial is also found in schools, on official maps and in law. It, in turn, helps perpetuate ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land, an existing discriminatory legal regime, and today’s forced displacement. In the words of Eitan Bronstein of the Israeli Zochrot (Remembering) Association:
If the Nakba never happened, it is impossible that millions of Palestinians today are refugees who demand restitution of their rights.
Between the end of 1947 and early 1949, more than half of the Palestinian population living in Mandate Palestine (estimated at 1.3 million) was displaced by Zionist militia and the state of Israel.
After 1948, Israel used military regulations and legal statutes regarding ‘absentee property’ to ensure that Palestinian refugees and IDPs could not return to their property and claim it; those who remained on their land were also subject to discriminatory regulations and a military government that lasted until 1966.
In 1950, Israel enacted the Law of Return, granting any Jew anywhere the right to citizenship as a Jewish national in Israel and (since 1967) also in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) while the 1952 Citizenship Law denationalised the Palestinian refugees. The establishment of a Jewish extra-territorial ethno-religious nationality as the basis for citizenship created one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians. Since 1967, Israel’s military government in the OPT has established a similar discriminatory regime of military regulations.
While Israel presents itself as a democracy, UN experts have frequently raised concern. In 2003, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded that Israel’s extraterritorial concept of ‘Jewish nationality’ is grounds for “exclusive preferential treatment” resulting in “discriminatory treatment against non-Jews, in particular Palestinian refugees.” In June 2007, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concluded that “the denial of the rights of many Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel is discriminatory and perpetuates violations of human rights.” CERD also applied the concept of apartheid to some of Israel’s practices towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, requesting that Israel “assess the extent to which the maintenance of separate Arab and Jewish ‘sectors’ may amount to racial segregation.”
Israel’s apartheid-like policies are visible in the Naqab (Negev), where 160,000 indigenous Bedouin live, many in unrecognized villages that were not included in Israel’s national master plan. These ‘unrecognized’ villages have no access to public services (water, electricity, health or education) and are issued no construction licenses. Unlicensed buildings there are likely to face demolition.
Ofﬁcials estimate that 45,000 houses in the Naqab could be demolished under Israel law. At the same time, Israel initiated in 2005 a ten-year, US$3.6 billion plan to develop the Naqab and double the number of its Jewish residents.
Israel considers the OPT ‘disputed’ not ‘occupied’. In January 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the OPT, Prof. John Dugard, reported that Israel’s 40-year-long occupation of the OPT “included elements of colonialism and apartheid.” Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, found that “the institutions, laws and practices that Israel had developed to dispossess the Palestinians (now Israeli citizens) inside its 1948 border (the Green Line) have been applied with comparable effect in the areas occupied since 1967” and that “Israel’s conﬁscation of land and properties belonging privately and collectively to the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories is a dominant feature of the occupation and an essential component of Israel’s population transfer programme.”