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The Nakba Never Ended

The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, and the attacks on her funeral, expose the reality for Palestinians – that the Nakba which is commemorated this weekend never really ended.

Britain's trade in settlement goods is funding Israel's oppression of Palestinians. (Fatima Shbair / Getty Images)

This Sunday, Palestinians around the world will once again be marking the Nakba: the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes that led to the establishment of the state of Israel, the destruction of over 500 Palestinians and villages that were wiped from the map of the new country.

There is no Palestinian who does not have a story of what happened to their family in 1948. Mine is my grandparents’: forced from their beautiful home in West Jerusalem—which stands still now, occupied by a Jewish family—and eventually to Beirut, where they died in exile.

The Nakba is not a fossilised moment of historical trauma, but an unbroken catastrophe, an ongoing settler colonialism that continues to displace the Palestinians who had managed to hold on to their lands, and prevent those expelled from returning.

The Nakba continued when, on 4 May, Israel’s highest court ruled it legal—in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention—for Israel to begin the expulsion of over 1,000 Palestinians from the village of Masafer Yatta to make for a military ‘firing zone’. Since 1970 Israel has declared up to eighteen percent of the illegally occupied West Bank ‘firing zones’ required for military exercises.

One week later, as Palestinians marked the anniversary of Israel’s 2021 bombardment of Gaza, bulldozers moved into Masafer Yatta, demolished buildings and forcibly uprooted forty-five people. Many of them are children. The same day, embarking on what Sarit Michaeli, the Advocacy Director for B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights monitoring organisation, called a ‘demolition spree’, Israel destroyed the family home of the al-Rajabi family in Silwan, in annexed East Jerusalem. IDF soldiers were filmed assaulting a child protesting the destruction. The al-Rajabi’s home is one of more than eighty scheduled for demolition in Silwan, with at least 1,500 Palestinians facing state-enforced homelessness and dispossession.

While the bulldozers entered Masafer Yatta, IDF troops began their latest incursion into Jenin, some 120 miles north, inside the occupied West Bank. Before long, footage emerged of the killing of prominent Palestinian journalist Shereen Abu Akleh. Numerous eye-witness accounts testified to her having been shot in the head by an IDF sniper. Israel began to wield the usual hasbara machinery, claiming footage showed Palestinian gunmen as the culprits, a claim quickly and forensically dismantled by B’Tselem field researchers.

These are just the latest moments, images, and stories that have been stitched in to the tapestry of the ongoing Nakba. It is a Nakba sustained by the complicity of governments’ public bodies, companies, and corporations who continue to shield Israel from accountability and lend it material and diplomatic support. Forced to acknowledge the death of Shereen Abu Akleh by its prominence as a news story, Liz Truss tweeted her sadness at the death—as if Shereen had succumbed to a sudden illness. No outrage, no condemnation, no calls for an independent investigation. David Lammy, Shadow Foreign Secretary, could not raise himself to comment, but relied on a retweet of his junior Bambos Charalambous’ expressions of shock.

Further, as Israel rolled on throughout the week with its incursions, demolitions, and killing of Palestinians, the UK government confirmed its intention to bring in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill specifically designed to ensure that while the government chooses not to hold Israel to account though sanctions, public bodies cannot make their own decisions not to invest in companies complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights.

Israel’s strategy over the seventy-four years since it first imposed its system of apartheid upon Palestinians has been to crush Palestinian resistance through persistent violence, and to attempt to cut off the necessary oxygen of support from a global solidarity movement by demonising that movement. This is done by attempting to toxify the cause of Palestinian liberation so that it becomes separated from broader progressive causes. Ben Gurion once reportedly condensed the strategy as ‘the old will die and the young will forget’.

But the strategy is failing.

The Palestinian Nakba story is not simply one of collective and ongoing trauma, but of resistance, endurance, and a refusal to submit. It is a spirt manifested this week by Yara al Rajabi, the ten-year-old daughter of the Silwan family who, having seen her home destroyed, spoke boldly to camera her family’s refusal to ever be driven from Jerusalem. It is the spirit manifested by the cohort of Palestinians—including some as young as fourteen—who will lead the Nakba march we are holding in London on Saturday 14 May, carrying keys: the symbol of Palestinian refusal to give up on their inalienable right to return to the homes from which they were driven in 1948.

While political leaders continue to shield Israel and take action to suppress movements of solidarity,  civil society is becoming bolder in its calling out of the injustice of apartheid and the need for accountability actions to address it. More than fifty civil society groups, faith groups, and trade unions have signed a statement in opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill. They have done so from a foundation of a recognition of the legitimate place of boycott as a tool to hold abusive institutions and states to account, and a refusal to accept the narrative that this is uniquely racist when applied to Israel.

At the end of Saturday’s march the Palestinian lead marchers will gather on stage to hold aloft their keys, while the words of Remi Kenazi’s poem, Nakba, are read aloud. It is a poem that tells the traumatic story of his grandmother‘s expulsion from her home in 1948 and her death in exile. It is a poem of resistance. It ends with these words:

We have not forgotten, we will not forget.
Veins like roots of olive trees we will return.
That is not a threat,
not a wish, a hope or a dream,
but a promise.