Dozens mark Nakba Day in UK parliament in 'reminder' of Britain's historic role

Dozens mark Nakba Day in UK parliament in 'reminder' of Britain's historic role
Activists commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Nakba at the UK parliament, with British-Palestinian MP Layla Moran telling the story of how she found her ancestral home in Jerusalem.
5 min read
16 May, 2023
The 75th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba was commemorated in a meeting room in the UK's House of Commons on Monday [Nuwan/Getty-file photo]

Over 100 activists, ambassadors and lawmakers gathered in the UK parliament to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba on Monday.

The cross-party event, chaired by Labour MP Julie Elliott, featured speakers including Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran and Palestinian ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot.

Moran, the UK's first British-Palestinian MP, spoke of the house in Jerusalem that her family lost when her grandfather was a child during the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic) – the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians by Zionist militias in the lead-up to and after the creation of Israel in 1948.

"I recently had the opportunity to go to Jerusalem, to be honest for the first time. My mother really never spent much time there. It's too painful. It's just too painful," she said.

"That generation have deep, deep scars that they carry with them. And so I went, and I went to find the house. And I found it.

"And all I felt was this deep sense of pain and loss, and a hole in my heart for what could have been – how it could have been different."

Moran addressed attendees at the event, which took place in a meeting room in the House of Commons, after introducing the Nakba Commemoration Bill earlier on Monday.

"This event serves as a reminder to this place and this government that the decisions that they took… [at the] time of Balfour – no one working here was alive when those [decisions] happened, but that doesn't mean they have any less responsibility to put them right," she said.

"So, today, I tabled the Nakba Commemoration Bill. It sits alongside the Palestine Statehood (Recognition) Bill. They sit there. They are waiting for the government to pick them up."

Then-UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in 1917 wrote a letter saying his government "viewed with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".

The UK later assumed power in Palestine, receiving a mandate to rule it from the League of Nations. It opened the door to mass Jewish immigration to the country and the formation of Zionist militias which later took control and ethnically cleansed Palestinians en masse.

British-Palestinian activist Leanne Mohamad, 22, also spoke on the panel. In an interview with The New Arab, she highlighted the UK's "complicity" in the Palestinian catastrophe.

"As British Palestinians, we know that Britain has a huge role in this, one that it still doesn't acknowledge till this very day," she said.

"The fact that we are having this conversation here in parliament amongst so many MPs and so many people who are supporting us, it means so much and it's the way forward, essentially.

"It's what we need more of and having our voices heard in places like this, it just gives us hope to carry on – hope for the future that… our freedom is near. Our freedom is near."

Labour MP and panel chair Julie Elliott also mentioned the UK's "historic responsibility for what happened to the Palestinian people" as she opened the discussion.

Ambassador Zomlot called for making Nakba denial a crime in his speech.

He also said the true meaning of the word "Nakba" has been missing from mainstream discourse in Britain and internationally.

"Nakba in Arabic means not just 'catastrophe'. It means when somebody loses everything – that's the real translation of the word," he said.

"When somebody loses his home, their land, their country, their identity, their culture, their history – that's a nakba. That's a catastrophe."

Warsi, the Conservative baroness, said she was pleased to see so many people from different political parties and faith backgrounds were present on Monday.

"Remembering the suffering of one set of peoples does not eradicate the suffering of another. Palestinians are humans too," she told those gathered.

"Today is not about denying the right of Israel to exist, it's about challenging those that deny the right of Palestine to exist.

"It's not about making Israelis suffer today by speaking of the past, it's talking of the past to stop the suffering of Palestinians today."

Warsi's party is typically viewed as being more aligned with Israel and less supportive of Palestine than Labour and other opposition parties, though the baroness confirmed at the Nakba Day talk that Tory parliamentarians have created a Conservative Friends of Palestine group.

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Alistair Burt, a former Conservative lawmaker who served as Middle East minister from 2017 to 2019, said Israel's new far-right government may impact the understanding of Tory MPs representing areas where Britain's Jewish community lives.

"I've never known a situation where the Jewish community has been so concerned about the state of the Israeli government," he told The New Arab after the event.

"There is a concern now about extremists having been accepted into the Israeli government.

"I think Conservative MPs will and should pick that up and recognise that they now have to build that into their consideration of what should be done going forward, that an Israeli government that contains these elements worries the community in the United Kingdom."

As well as in the British parliament, Nakba Day was officially marked at the United Nations in New York on Monday – a first for the global body.