Voices of the Palestinian diaspora: Nakba is an open wound

70 years on since the inception of Israel, Palestinian members of the diaspora remain committed to historic homeland.

A man rides a horse during a rally of Israeli Arabs calling for the right of return for refugees who fled their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, near Atlit
There are over 12 million Palestinians worldwide, the vast majority of whom see Israel's independence day as the 'catastrophe' [Reuters]

Some 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly uprooted from their native towns and villages prior, during and after Israel’s so-called declaration of independence on May 14, 1948.

Today, there are over 12 million Palestinians worldwide (of which 5.4 million are refugees), who regard Israel’s independence day as the Nakba – or the “catastrophe”.

A 1947 United Nations resolution that had called for the partitioning of Palestine between Arabs and Jews saw Britain relinquish its mandate over the territory at midnight on May 14 – and the first Arab-Israeli war begin.

The partition plan had been a blow to the Arabs – who believed the settlement grossly unfair – and was not entirely satisfactory to Zionists with long-held aspirations of a Jewish homeland. Jewish paramilitary groups, for instance, demanded nothing less than all of Palestine.

The 1948 war saw the poorly led Arab forces of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq put to the sword by a fledgling, but well-equipped, Israeli nation fighting for its very survival.

The Arab-Israeli Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 brought Palestinians no closer to realising their own dreams for a homeland as Israel’s territorial ambitions continue to breach international law.

Now, 70 years on since the inception of Israel, Palestinian members of the diaspora remain committed to the struggle for the liberation of Palestine and against Israeli occupation and oppression.

Al Jazeera spoke to five expatriate Palestinians with various backgrounds and birthplaces to ascertain their views about 70 years of the Israeli state.

Sara Saleh, 30, human rights campaigner, artist and poet

They say the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable.

The idea that a country [Israel] can exist in such cognitive dissonance, in a perpetual asymmetry of power in its favour, and never think of those amongst it that are vulnerable, those it is actively oppressing to maintain its inflated sense of strength, is truly astonishing.

Sara Saleh is of the Palestinian/Egyptian descent and lives in Sydney, Australia.

Israel’s psyche is synonymous with security – physical and psychological – a narrative and a product it exports globally. This is ultimately counter-intuitive – humankind is not born to only fear and be feared.

Therefore, in a war of oppressor and oppressed, in the struggle for power on a local and global stage, Palestine doesn’t come close to competing with the mighty Israel whose sole purpose is to slowly but surely strangle the life out of Palestinians.

But when it comes to love and empathy – the essence of humanity and of our human intellect – Israel and its Zionism will always lose if it continues to create and maintain itself off the back of Palestinian bodies.

Israel as a colonial settler state will be its own downfall – this has already begun. It will disintegrate in the face of brave citizens – Palestinian and Jewish – who are infusing a consciousness against the structurally violent and apartheid character of the Israeli state; Palestinians and Jews who believe in transformative notions of citizenships for themselves, who unapologetically demand a future with dignity, equality and hope in it.

Wael Shawish, 58, project manager in Scotland  

Is there anything I admire about Israel or the people of Israel as it has built its idea of a state over these past 70 years? Of course, there are things to be admired. Being a racist and oppressive state does not mean there is nothing good about it. 

Wael Shawish lives in Glasgow, Scotland
Wael Shawish lives in Glasgow, Scotland

I like the fact that it has managed to move with the times in terms of infrastructure and technological development that can compete on the international stage, albeit with elements of unethical industries like the arms industry and the surveillance technology that infringes on people’s privacy and liberty.

There is also their sense of unity as a Jewish people and their pride in what they have achieved.

All these are good points and to be admired had it not been for their obsession with depriving the Palestinians – whether citizens of the state or expelled refugees – of the same opportunities and rights that they award to themselves as Jews.

If we understand history, then we understand the future. If we look back at apartheid South Africa, nobody imagined we could have a resolution without bloodshed.

And yet it happened. I can see the walls, the hatred in people’s eyes, but things can change because it cannot be sustained.

Nadia Abuelezam, 30, assistant professor in US  

It’s very difficult to be Palestinian in America. Because by living here and paying your taxes you are inherently supporting the state of Israel as millions of our tax dollars go to Israel every single year.

Nadia Abuelezam is a Palestinian-American assistant professor at Boston College Connell School of Nursing in the US. She is also the creator and host of Palestinians Podcast.

My parents found refuge here in the United States and yet their existence here in the United States is supporting exactly what displaced them in the first place. And that’s a very difficult space to live in.

But there is a change in opinion among some demographics here. I’m finding that people are listening to Palestinians Podcast in order to understand and come in to contact with Palestinians because they’ve never been given the opportunity to do so.

I think over time that [US] public opinion will change – this is a social justice issue and a human rights issue and if people are exposed to the facts then from a basic human rights issue people will support the Palestinians.

I do not admire anything about Israel as I believe that it is occupying Palestinian land illegally. Any country, people, or state built through the destruction of another people’s country cannot be admired.

Lina al-Sharif, 29, poet  

People these days are starting to treat the Nakba as some kind of distant past that Palestinians should get over. Yet, the Nakba isn’t a scar – it’s an open wound.

Al-Sharif is Palestinian poet living in Doha, Qatar.
Al-Sharif is Palestinian poet living in Doha, Qatar.

We Palestinians are still reeling from such a catastrophic event that tore up the very fabric of Palestinian society. Israel’s policies continue to devastate Palestinians wherever they are.

What is more terrifyingly alarming these days is that there’s an increasing acceptance of Israel’s expansionist project amongst Arabs. [US president] Donald Trump is moving the American embassy to Jerusalem on the same day of the Nakba and there seems to be timid reactions to that.

Many parts of the [Arab] region are suffering from war, and where Palestinians made up most of the refugees in many Arab countries, now there are Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Trump’s election also gave a green light to all the right-wing movements in the West to support Israel’s policies, which no longer draws any outrage; it’s rather becoming the norm – even Israel’s right to do.

Do [I] believe in Israel’s right to exist? I feel that Palestinians are always asked this tricky question to prove that they aren’t ready for peace. I believe in Palestine’s right to exist with Jerusalem as its capital.

I believe in the refugees’ right to return to their lands that they were driven off back in 1948.”

Iyad El-Baghdadi, 40, writer  

If there’s one thing to admire about Israel [over the last 70 years] is the fact that they managed to keep a democracy and a vibrant political sphere.

El-Baghdadi is Palestinian living in Oslo, Norway. He is the founder and CEO of the Kawaakibi Foundation.
El-Baghdadi is Palestinian living in Oslo, Norway. He is the founder and CEO of the Kawaakibi Foundation.

Perhaps the impetus of the founding generation of Israeli leaders is really what managed to allow Israel to keep its democracy…

I think the apartheid metaphor [for today’s Israeli state] is apt but it doesn’t completely fit. I wouldn’t know if I’d call [Israel] a racist entity – I’d prefer to call it ‘institutional injustice’. It’s definitely an ethnostate. In fact, you can see why so many white supremacists – who are actually anti-semitic – are so very supportive of Israel.

Because Israel, for them, presents the ideal ethnostate, the ethnostate that is very unapologetic about the use of force and very unapologetic about the way it presents itself as a legitimate state.

Israel is trying to normalise something that is very difficult to normalise – and that’s ‘institutional injustice’. They’re trying to force Palestinians to accept it.

In order to normalise something which is this unjust you really need to employ absolute military rule, you need complete brutality and all of its [barrier] walls.

I don’t know what the thinking is among the Israeli leadership or among the Israeli intelligentsia, but anyone should be able to see that this is unsustainable.

Source: Al Jazeera